Clough content that Blades offer goal threat from all areas of park

Jose Baxter set for return to action.
Jose Baxter set for return to action.
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Nigel Clough believes it is a “myth” that clubs need a 25-goal striker to be successful.

Sheffield United have not had a prolific striker since the days of Ched Evans, but the Blades manager believes promotion can still be achieved.

United are more akin to Arsenal, with a wealth of midfield talent supporting the lone front man, rather than deploying a Manchester United style of three strikers.

Of course, every manager would like to splash out on a striker who can guarantee a 25-goal return, but Clough is adamant he can mould a top-six side without breaking the bank.

With the likes of Jamie Murphy, Ryan Flynn, Stefan Scougall, Jose Baxter, Jamal Campbell-Ryce and Ben Davies all operating in attacking midfield roles – ahead of a holding midfielder – United definitely have a goals potential.

If four of those six could reach double figures come the end of the season, complemented by a regular supply of goals from defenders like Neill Collins and strikers like Michael Higdon or Marc McNulty, then Clough believes success could be on the horizon.

“We have never relied on our strikers to score all the goals,” said Clough. “This myth about you need a 25-goal a season striker, a lot of the teams who are successful don’t have that.

“We have got goals coming from all through the team. You also have the problem if you lose that person – or he loses form – who do you rely upon then?

“Last season we had Murphy, Flynn, Scougall, they should all be chipping in as well as the back four. We are the sort of team who is going to need goals from all over the pitch.

“We try and get our defenders to score, too, with the amount of good set-plays we put in the box.

“Stefan is getting very close to being back to where he was last season. Another couple of weeks and I think he will be there. I was delighted as I thought he was one of the big plus points at Chesterfield. He was scampering around and was very unlucky a couple of times when he nearly got through on the edge of their box.

“It’s good to have him back. He is a spark, he gets us going when he picks the ball up and turns quickly, running at defenders and being positive. He lifts the whole crowd.”

Two more potential match-winners, Baxter and Campbell-Ryce, will return to the United squad today for the League One visit of Leyton Orient.

Both have struggled with injuries this season, but played – and scored – in the midweek Johnstone’s Paint Trophy win at Hartlepool United.

The return of Baxter – who can operate in midfield or advanced as a striker – is a particular relief for Clough, who believes the former Everton youngster can help unlock stubborn defences.

“With Jose being back, that’s given us a huge boost and increased our options in midfield and up front,” said Clough.

“He’s back earlier than we had hoped. When he did his hamstring, we did think it would be a six-week job. It’s important though that we take precautions with him, we don’t want it going again, but at least he is back in the 18.

“We want Jose with the ball at his feet. He is capable of making goals and scoring them.

“That’s very important as we need somebody just to get us a goal at times.

“You look at all the chances we had in our last home game (against Gillingham), and you wonder if Jose had been on the pitch would he have helped himself to a couple of goals.

“It was frustrating to lose him. We have had some good results when he has been out, but in the losses you always think ‘if we had Jose today it might have been a different situation’.

“Players aren’t daft, they know which players can play and who they can give the ball to in tight situations and who can get them a goal from nothing. Jose falls into that category.

“He can play in various positions, from a holding position to a striker, on his own or one of two. Game to game his role might change.”

The Blades will not be appealing Higdon’s red card at Chesterfield – “You can see why (the referee) gave him the red card,” said Clough.

“It’s a silly tackle but you have seen yellows given for that.”

The striker will miss today’s game and next week’s trip to Bradford City.

United have eight wins in their last 11 games, but Clough feels demoralising away defeats to Swindon (5-2) and Chesterfield (3-2) have overshadowed their progress. They have not lost at home since the opening day defeat to Bristol City, but have only played five matches at Bramall Lane so far this term, compared to nine away games.

“It doesn’t feel that good a run because of the defeats, conceding eight goals in them two games,” admitted Clough.

“At home, though, let’s try to keep that good run going. Since the opening day we have done well at Bramall Lane.”