Sheffield United v Swindon: Clough steps up striker search as ‘season starts now’ for Blades

Eoin Doyle.
Eoin Doyle.
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Sheffield United are chasing six strikers as Nigel Clough looks to bolster his forward options within the next 72 hours.

The Blades, with money to spend after two successful cup runs, have offered cash for three different strikers, with Chesterfield’s Eoin Doyle understood to be a United target.

Clough is also chasing three other strikers, on a loan basis, to strengthen a forwards department which consists of top scorer Marc McNulty, Che Adams and Michael Higdon.

United’s resources have been stretched to the limit, following their run to a two-legged League Cup semi-final showdown with Tottenham.

Plus, the Blades also face an FA Cup replay at Bramall Lane on Tuesday against Preston North End, with a possible prize of Manchester United in the next round awaiting them.

United’s cup success, allied to a league campaign which sees them just outside the League One play-offs, has brought a congested fixture list and Clough is eager to recruit.

“We hope to have some positive news on one or two players,” said Clough, who is hoping to sign two of his six striker targets.

“We are making progress, but it’s slow. We have to be patient with them.

“On the striking front, I would say there are about five or six names, at the moment, that we are working on.

“We have two or three bids on the table, and looking at two or three possible loans.

“It’s a complete mix. There are a couple of younger ones in there, more experienced ones, and it’s a broad range with the striker options.

“I don’t think we need any particular kind. If we could get two strikers, that would be ideal, alongside Michael Higdon and Marc McNulty.

“They are the ones that need the most rest, when we are playing games three times a week.

“It is the strikers who are generally going to be rested, and we have enough to do that in midfield.”

Clough refused to name specific targets and brushed aside questions about Spireites forward Doyle, the 26-year-old Irishman having netted 24 times this season.

Asked if Doyle was a target, Clough replied: “I can’t shed any light on that, apart from if we do sign anybody, we will let you know. We have people out watching League One games all of the time.”

After United’s heroics against Spurs, the performances of players like Jamie Murphy will have alerted clubs in the Championship and above.

But Clough is adamant none of his Blades first-teamers will be leaving Bramall Lane before Monday’s transfer window deadline.

“We haven’t had any offers, which is a little bit surprising when you see people like Jamie Murphy – how he played against Spurs – but long may that continue,” said Clough.“We don’t want any interest for our best players because they are not going anywhere. We are looking to recruit, we are happy with the three we have brought in already in this transfer window, and either permanent or loan, we are looking to bring in another one or two.”

Clough is willing to allow goalkeeper George Long and defender Neill Collins to go out on loan.

Yesterday, midfielder Stephen McGinn returned north to Scotland, to join Dundee on loan.

Today, United welcome leaders Swindon Town to Bramall Lane, as Clough faces the challenge to turn his players’ focus on the league despite it being sandwiched between two huge Cup games.

Snow in South Yorkshire has meant United players have not trained Thursday or yesterday, but today’s game is not in doubt unless there is further overnight snow. The Blades stand 18 points off Swindon and Bristol City, and even with games in hand, know defeat today would be a hammer blow to their hopes of automatic promotion.

“We have got to try and win, but not lose it is the main thing,” said Clough. “There’s still plenty of games to go, we are only halfway through the season.When you see two teams on 54 points, it’s highly unlikely they are going to replicate that in the second half of the season.

“You don’t see too many teams with 108 points at the end of the season. We know roughly what we have to do between now and the end of the season.

“We will do everything we can to get in the top two, if not we will focus on the top six and try to get promoted that way. We are not ruling anything out yet. The season does start here. We are still in one major cup competition. When you get knocked out of a cup, sometimes everyone says ‘well that’s the season over now’.

“It’s by far from over for us, we have still got plenty to play for, in the league and the FA Cup.”

United lost 5-2 in September at Swindon, who have not played since beating Chesterfield 3-1 on January 17. Since then, United have squeezed in three games – including the two-legged semi-final with Spurs – and Clough predicts a tough encounter.

“In the last two weeks, there’s been quite a contrast between the two teams. One thing they will be is fresh coming off an enforced break like that.”

United brought in Hearts midfielder Jason Holt, 21, on loan yesterday, with a view to making the switch permanent in the summer.

Holt said: “I’m delighted to be given an opportunity at a club like Sheffield United. The season has gone tremendously well so far at Hearts and I’m proud to have played a part.”