Sheffield United today embark on a run of Bramall Lane games with manager Nigel Clough looking for some much-needed home comforts.
The Blades – who despite an upturn in results since Clough’s arrival are only out of the League One relegation zone on goal difference – today host play-off chasing Swindon Town.
It’s the first of three home matches which United end 2013 with – Oldham Athletic and Tranmere Rovers are the others – and Clough is desperate for his side to transfer their recent impressive away form into performances at Bramall Lane.
The Blades were denied victory at Leyton Orient by a cruel late equaliser, smashed Conference leaders Cambridge United’s 100 per cent home record last weekend in the FA Cup, and held free-scoring Peterborough United to a 0-0 draw.
Now, Clough wants to put on a show for United’s home support, starting today as they look to climb away from the drop zone.
“We feel that with three home games coming up out of the next four, we have got to start winning at home now,” said Clough, who has impressed since taking over from David Weir.
“We have done incredibly well on the road lately, certainly the two FA Cup games, getting a win at Bristol City, a draw at Orient.
“It’s all been very positive, but it’s really the home form which has to change now and start getting a win or two under our belts.
“We want to keep the resilience and solidity they have been showing, but we probably want a little bit more going forward.
“I think you have to at home, you can’t sit back and hit teams on the break. We will hopefully attack a bit more than we have done in the away games. Although no-one can ever accuse us of being negative, we are very positive and try to play positively.
“I don’t think you can ever ‘try too hard’ to please the fans at home. I think they are a little bit more anxious at home because they are aware we have 18,000 fans. When they give the ball away it’s a little bit more tense, and you feel that bit more pressure at home due to the expectation levels there when you run out (at Bramall Lane).
“The way to turn that round is to win some games. It then becomes an advantage rather than a disadvantage at times.”
Clough is still evaluating his squad, but two attacking players who will come into his team thoughts today are attacking midfielder Jose Baxter and winger Jamie Murphy. Neither featured when Clough first arrived at the Lane, but both found the net in Sunday’s 2-0 win at Cambridge and are pushing for starts this afternoon.
“We are still learning about the squad,” he admitted. “Our opinions will change, Jamie and Josie have proven that, but the players can change our minds by just doing the right things. If you do well, you keep the shirt, end of story.
“If the team is playing well, we will try and keep the same team as much as we can.
“In Jamie’s case, he wasn’t in the 18 for the first few games we were here for. There are two ways you can react to that. Go away and sulk, feel sorry for yourself, or you can start working even harder, do well in training and force your way into our thinking.
“Jamie has done that. Jose was never really out of our thinking. He was injured when I first arrived, he was the bench, didn’t get on, then got himself a little chance, half an hour at Colchester and did well, and half an hour elsewhere.
“He’s now started the last two now and it’s up to him now to maintain that level.
“Jamie is different to anything that we have got as he is an out-and-out wideman on the left-hand side. He just likes attacking the full-back, putting crosses in, and he can get a goal like he showed on Sunday.
“Jose scored an incredible goal. If it had been scored by someone in the Premier League people would be talking about it. It was a yard behind him, so to hit it first-time, to keep it down and hit it at the pace he did was technically tremendous.
“We are trying to impress that the work-rate and everything is as important to the team at the moment as his ability. We know he has ability, but we are specially pleased with his work-rate for the team.
“Both are really buckling down and recognising we are in a relegation fight. We are out of the bottom four on goal difference.
“We have 28 league games to scrap, fight like we have been doing, and if they want to be a part they have to got to do that as well.”
Clough is likely to rest midfielder Stephen McGinn, who has a knee injury, rather than run the risk of aggravating the problem.
That would break up the successful central midfield pairing of McGinn and Michael Doyle which has served Clough well so far.
“What we do is always err on the side of caution, with so many games coming up,” said Clough.
“The last thing we want to do is put him out there and make it worse, then miss five games in two weeks that we have coming up.
“We have got enough players, it’s not about numbers, it’s more about keeping the partnership between him and Michael Doyle in the middle if we can.”