ALMOST 23 years have elapsed since Nigel Clough was on the losing side in an FA Cup final, but the hurt clearly still burns deep inside Sheffield United’s manager.
This much was evident yesterday when the 47-year-old was asked about the 1991 final that saw Nottingham Forest, managed by his father Brian, beaten 2-1 by Tottenham Hotspur in a game that is best remembered for Paul Gascoigne suffering a horrific injury.
Clough admits that loss remains one of his biggest regrets in football. He has, though, also experienced the upside of the Cup with United’s win at Aston Villa in this season’s third round a major source of pride.
On Sunday, the Blades’ chief will hope his players can write another glorious chapter in the history of the world’s oldest knockout competition by beating Premier League Fulham at Bramall Lane.
Clough said: “We know how well we played on the day (at Villa) and the size of the achievement of winning at Villa Park.
“Internally, that is all we worry about. We are not looking for the public acclaim. We know we played well. We deserve the accolades, but we are not really looking for the public ones.
“The win put a smile on the faces of the 6,000 fans who supported us down there. Someone said it was the best day out they’d had for a few years. That is enough for all of us.
“The FA Cup has done important things for us this season. In the league, it has been a struggle, but the Cup has put a smile back on a few faces. We would like to stay in it as well.
“We are looking forward to Sunday, it is the reward for three very difficult ties.”
With Fulham having a Premier League game at Swansea City just a couple of days after Sunday’s visit to the Lane, Clough admits it is proving difficult to second guess what line-up Rene Meulensteen will select.
For his part, the Blades’ chief is hoping to force through deals to sign Livingston midfielder Stefan Scougall and Cardiff City defender John Brayford before today’s noon deadline so the duo can be in the squad to face the London club.
The need to bring in reinforcements is heightened by Elliott Whitehouse, Callum McFazdean and Billy Paynter all being Cup-tied.
Whatever team Clough sends out on Sunday, they will be urged to repeat the standard of performance that proved too much for Villa in the last round.
He commented: “We said to the players before the Villa game that we’d had to go to Colchester and Cambridge (in the early rounds) to get to this point.
“The only way you get to the third round and play one of these ties is if you win at places like Colchester and Cambridge. Now, we have got ourselves a home draw and it is another opportunity for them.”
As for Clough, victory on Sunday would not make up for that defeat as a player in the 1991 final. But it would ensure he has another happy memory to offset the disappointment of Forest losing to Spurs more than two decades ago.
The Blades chief said: “You don’t get many chances to win the FA Cup. We had a great one that day, but we lost.
“It is not a good memory. In fact, Roger Milford (the referee of the 1991 final) is our memories. If he had done his job properly on the day, he might have saved Paul Gascoigne’s career.
“Seeing poor old Gazza getting on the stretcher after two of the worst tackles you will ever see on a football pitch, without so much as even receiving a yellow card...even to this day, I am flabbergasted by that.
“People say, ‘It is the FA Cup final’. But it doesn’t matter. The first tackle was a sending-off.
“Not that we want to see people sent off, but what hurts as well is Paul Stewart came on for Gazza and played very well. They got back into it and we ended up losing in extra time. It just wasn’t to be.
“It is not the happiest memory. Getting to the final was a great achievement because we had failed a couple of times. We just never quite got there to win it.”
Asked if it remained one of his biggest regrets, Clough replied: “Yes. Because we only had the opportunity once, I would say it was. We didn’t manage to see it through.
“As much for him (Clough’s father Brian) as for ourselves. The whole team felt it. Opportunities like that (winning the Cup) are rare. ”