Sheffield United v Gillingham: Clough aims for Blades to spark special anniversary celebrations

Michael Higdon

Michael Higdon

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Nigel Clough has urged his Sheffield United players not to be party-poopers as the Blades celebrate their 125th anniversary.

A sell-out 1,200 guests will turn out for a anniversary bash less than two hours after the final whistle goes at Bramall Lane when Gillingham are the visitors in League One.

Revered former managers like Dave Bassett and Neil Warnock, along with around 100 former players, will descend on Ponds Forge for the party when the Blades will reveal awards to their all-time greats.

Current United manager Clough believes there are a couple of players in his class of 2014 who could join such exalted names in the future.

But first Clough is looking for three points this afternoon to propel United up the League One table.

“The anniversary puts a little bit more pressure on the result,” Clough admitted, with guests flying into Sheffield from around the globe. “It will be special being 125 years.

“Everybody will be at the dinner on Saturday night, so three points will enhance everyone’s enjoyment of the day.

“It’s important for us to celebrate the club’s history, and embrace it.

“This is the most important time in the club’s history, now. It has to be as it’s the present, along with the next six months.

“But there’s no harm at all in celebrating the past. It’s a special clubs, with a special history.”

United return to the Lane after three successive away games which have brought mixed fortunes. They trailed 2-0 at Colchester United, but stole victory with three goals in the last seven minutes.

But there was no such escape at Swindon Town, where they slumped to a 5-2 loss, only to recover some lost pride with a 1-0 win at Leyton Orient in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday night.

In that Orient match, United looked more aggressive and dogged and Clough believes that no-nonsense approach will be needed if the Blades are to be successful.

“We want aggression in every game,” said Clough. “Not every team can have it in every game, you occasionally get off days. We had one at Swindon and got away with it at Colchester.

“But on Tuesday we had a back four being physical, making tackles. I don’t think we got too many bookings, just good honest endeavour which is what we expect.

“You don’t have to go round kicking people, that’s not the sort of aggression we want. We want closing down, tackles going in.

“There has to be an element of that in our game, I think that’s when we are at our best.

“We didn’t think that was us against Swindon, even Colchester when we got the result, but to win two out of three on the road was good going.

“After Swindon, everyone was all doom and gloom, the season’s over sort of thing.

“Our performances generally on the road – Peterborough, West Ham, Preston were brilliant performances – and Orient was back to that form on Tuesday.In some ways it’s best to get all the rubbish out of the way in one game. We could have drawn at Swindon and Colchester, thought that’s great to be unbeaten, and got through in the Cup. But we would have been a point worse off.”

Michael Higdon capped a bright start at Orient, netting the only goal of the night in the opening minutes.

With many teams in League One setting up with the emphasis on frustrating United – one of the favourites for promotion to the Championship before a ball was kicked – Higdon’s early goal was the perfect way to force the opposition to change their formation.

Clough is hoping for a similar start today.

“I hope we can start the game like we did the other night at Orient, that’s the ideal way we want to go in the first 15 minutes and set the tempo,” said Clough.

“You can always come down from that, reduce the tempo. It’s sometimes difficult to pick it up if you start slowly.

“We will have to be patient because most teams come to Bramall Lane for a point.

“Rochdale’s manager said it was their best performance of the season, Crawley said the same, as did Colchester and Swindon.

“Out of the last five league games, four teams have said they have had their best performances of the season against us. That’s how difficult it is, especially at Bramall Lane.

“Eventually, hopefully we can turn that into a fear factor. If you are winning and near the top, they are looking forward to coming to Bramall Lane, because of the size of the place and atmosphere, but on the footballing side we don’t want them to look forward to it.

“Just getting the 1-0s we have had, I know it’s not spectacular at times, but they are great for building our confidence.”

Chris Basham rejoins the squad after being given time off for the birth of his first child.

Clough said off-field issues can sometimes affect a player’s performances on the pitch.

He said: “It’s been a very emotional week for him, not having much sleep. Leading up to the birth of your first child is quite a traumatic and nervous time, and I think he has felt that both in training and games. He’s not been quite as energetic as normal. Anybody who has got kids will know you are shattered before you have them, as you lead up to it. And we expect these players to be at their peak.

“There’s other factors outside of football to consider.”

Striker Higdon is hoping his goal at Orient will be enough to keep his shirt today.

“Wherever I have played I have been used to playing, so it’s up to me to get back in the team, perform better, and hopefully be back in the manager’s thoughts.

“It’s frustrating, maybe if I had performed better in certain games I would have more minutes.

“After the Swindon performance it was good to get it our of our system.

“When you have conceded seven in two games you to keep a clean sheet as soon as possible.”

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