MK Dons v Sheffield Utd: Howard sways Clough towards new contract

Sheffield United Manager Nigel Clough (right)
Sheffield United Manager Nigel Clough (right)
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SHEFFIELD UNITED manager Nigel Clough has paid tribute to goalkeeper Mark Howard and says he is going the right way about earning himself a new deal in the summer.

Buoyant Blades will seek a seventh successive victory in all competitions, against MK Dons this afternoon, with their thrilling upturn having coincided with the first-team return of Howard between the posts.

The Londoner came in for George Long following the Blades’ dismal 3-0 reverse at Crewe Alexandra on February 1 and has kept five clean sheets since, fully vindicating Clough’s decision.

The 27-year-old will hope for his fourth consecutive shut-out in Buckinghamshire as the Blades eye a third straight away league win when, not so long ago, they could not triumph on the road for love nor money.

United’s renaissance is such that they find themselves in 12th position when just a few weeks ago, they were in the drop zone.

Speaking about the impact made by Howard, now free of injuries which had previously restricted his progress, Clough said: “Mark is a nice steadying influence.

“He has just a bit more experience than George although I still think he’s a big future in the game.

“We just thought it was the right time to give him a breather.

“We’ve got a few decisions to make on players who are out of contract in the summer and as soon as we can get safe, that process will begin.

“That was another reason for putting Mark in as well – to have a look at him as we have a decision to make on him in the summer.

“He’s certainly done nothing wrong so far and is growing in confidence as well.

Saluting his band of new signings, who have also stepped up to the plate, he added: “The players who have come in have improved it as well.

“We have brought in John Brayford, who ups the standard wherever you play him in the team, and Stefan Scougall has done well and Bob (Harris) has also settled in nicely, while Billy (Paynter) up front has battled away.

“Conor Coady is also staying and we feel as though he is improving.

“Confidence is a massive factor in football and something you can’t buy or give players. It comes from hard work and getting results.”