Blades will look to take the next step on their road to redemption

Chris Lines holds off Tony McMahon. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).
Chris Lines holds off Tony McMahon. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).
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MENTION Clough and Taylor being in the dugout and chances are football fans of a certain age will go all misty-eyed.

First at Derby County and then in even more spectacular fashion at the helm of twice European Cup winners Nottingham Forest, Brian Clough and Peter Taylor wrote themselves into English footballing folklore as one of the greatest managerial partnerships of all time.

Sadly, neither of these two great football men are still with us, but today Bramall Lane will witness a Clough v Taylor tussle as Brian’s son Nigel tries to plot a victory over a Gillingham outfit led by former Hull and Bradford manager Peter Taylor.

It promises to be a keenly-fought contest with second-bottom Blades desperate to move up the table as the Gills look to avoid a defeat that would drag them deeper into trouble in League One.

United manager Nigel Clough said: “I have to admit that I had not thought about that connection until you mentioned it. And I don’t think they were in opposing dug-outs too often.

“But it will bring back plenty of great memories.

“I have met Peter a few times, and he is a vastly experienced manager at all levels.

“He must have managed in every division as well as taking England Under-21s and being caretaker manager of the full national side.

“He is not really new to the job at Gillingham because he has been there for a few weeks as caretaker.

“But I think that, now he has got the job on a permanent basis, the players down there will certainly be feeling more relaxed knowing they are working with a good, experienced manager.”

Aside from two famous footballing names going head-to-head, United defender Tony McMahon believes today’s contest can be a step along the road of redemption for the hosts.

Since Clough succeeded David Weir as manager, the Blades have beaten Crewe Alexandra in the league and knocked Colchester United out of the FA Cup either side of a 2-0 loss at Shrewsbury Town that saw Fabian Brandy sent off just before the hour.

For a team that lost six league games in a row earlier this season, this trio of results represents something of an upturn in fortunes.

Despite that, the Blades still sit 23rd in the table with a paltry haul of 12 points from 15 games.

McMahon said: “Winning in the Cup (3-2 at Colchester) was a big thing. We were solid. I know we conceded two goals but they only had two shots.

“The key now is we have to build on that performance. We go into the Gillingham game full of confidence. In recent weeks, we have gone back to basics. The manager came in and he said he wanted us to go 4-4-2.

“You saw under David Weir that we were spread and liked to pass the ball. But the new manager has stripped us back and made us harder to beat in an attempt to be more solid.

“We have got a few results and we are enjoying it. The enjoyment comes with winning games. Confidence is up and that comes from results.

“We have played well of late. We have picked up a few results, which is a great confidence boost for any team. Results have not been good previously and once you start winning than the confidence comes back.”

United’s struggles have come as a major surprise, not least because they had reached the play-offs in each of the last two seasons.

The exciting investment news that saw Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who will be at today’s game, take a 50 per cent shareholding in early September also helped fuel belief that this could be United’s year.

Instead, the opposite has proved to be true so far with Weir paying the price for a truly awful start last month.

McMahon said: “We did have a difficult spell under David Weir, but the fans stuck with us. They will moan and groan, and rightly so because we have not produced.

“As we all know, results have not been good. Everyone is entitled to have a little moan about that. But, as players, we stick together. We have to pick up results and move away from the relegation zone, starting on Saturday with three points.

“We don’t have any targets or anything like that. I remember saying we could still will the league a few weeks ago and I got all manner of stick for that. So I won’t be saying that again.

“All that matters is Gillingham. We don’t look at blocks of games and pinpoint what points we can pick up from those games.

“Just take each game at a time and get us out of the relegation zone. That is a must.”

Considering how United have fared this term, it is no surprise that moments of cheer have been few and far between at the Lane.

McMahon is well aware of this, not least because of a post-match interview he gave to the club’s media staff in the wake of September’s 1-0 defeat at Carlisle United that spurred his own brother to get in touch to check the defender was okay.

The full-back said: “My brother sent me the youtube interview after that game and I looked like I was going to cry. That was a bad day. But it is gone now and behind us.

“Gillingham will be a tough game. I know they have changed manager recently, just like we did. They will be up for it. But we are at home and expected to win so, hopefully, we can do that.”