NIGEL CLOUGH admits Sheffield United’s bid to reach Wembley tonight could have been made even tougher by the weekend FA Cup mayhem that saw several of the Premier League big guns wiped out.
The Blades host Tottenham Hotspur in the last four of the Capital One Cup knowing they must overcome a 1-0 first leg deficit to reach the final on March 1.
A dramatic weekend that saw top three Chelsea, Manchester City and Southampton unexpectedly beaten at home in the Cup along with sixth-placed Spurs has raised hopes a sold-out Bramall Lane could witness yet another major upset.
United have already beaten five top-flight sides inside a little over a year but Clough believes that the recent flurry of FA Cup shocks could have galvanised tonight’s visitors.
“The one thing that Saturday’s results do is put everyone on high alert,” said the former England striker.
“Anyone who is facing a lower-league team, well if they didn’t know it before then they now know they are in for a game. ‘Don’t take them lightly because, on their day, they can do things like Saturday’.
“I think Manchester United started it off on Friday night (by being held to a goalless draw at Cambridge United). Things like that give you belief and inspiration.
“You watch a game like that and you go to bed thinking, ‘Come on, we can do this tomorrow’. It is amazing how it works in players’ minds.”
Bradford City’s 4-2 triumph at Stamford Bridge may have deservedly taken most of the plaudits over the weekend but Boro’s win at the Etihad also upset the formbook massively.
Throw in draws for Bolton Wanderers at Liverpool and Cambridge at home to Louis van Gaal’s United and it is clear that the Football League had the better of things over the weekend, even allowing for how Arsenal, West Ham United and Aston Villa hit back on behalf of the top flight on Sunday, and Stoke on Monday.
Clough said: “I think it (the number of upsets) is all down to the Premier League lads not taking the cups as seriously as the other players.
“The Cups are so important to lower-league players and lower-league clubs, I don’t think that is matched in the Premier League. I don’t think they regard it with the same importance, even when they put a full side out.
“Whatever Manchester City want to do is their business. But to have a seven-and-a-half-hour flight the day before a game (as the Blues did before facing Boro), well I wonder if they would do that for a Champions League game?
“And would they fly back on Friday from Abu Dhabi before they play Chelsea next Saturday?”
Clough believes Spurs’ surprise Cup exit to Leicester City will ensure Mauricio Pochettino avoids falling into the same trap as that which proved so costly for both Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini.
“I think Spurs will be more determined,” said the United chief. “I think that they made nine changes (against Leicester), which suggests there is not going to be many who played on Saturday playing against us in the second leg.
“He (Pochettino) probably prioritised and said, ‘We’re 90 minutes from Wembley here’. He saved his strongest perceived side for Wednesday night and thought he could get through on Saturday (despite all the changes), and he very nearly did.
“I am sure Spurs will be aware of that and the sort of game it could be for them. If you look through Spurs’ team, there are quite a few lads who have been out on loan (in the Football League) and they will know what this Cup tie is all about.
“Lads like Danny Rose, (Andros) Townsend and (Aaron) Lennon, Rory Mason is a good, young English midfielder. So is Kyle Walker. They have got a few with that sort of experience and they are probably going to need it.”
What the recent Cup exploits of Football League clubs – led by the Yorkshire duo of the Blades and Bradford – have shown is that despite top-flight clubs invariably looking abroad for a new manager, there is plenty of home-grown talent in this country.
Clough said: “There are good managers out there. You look at what Gary Rowett’s doing at Birmingham and Neil Lennon (at Bolton). Hopefully, there is going to be a trend towards going back that way but it’s only results and sets of results like Saturday that will help them get the chance.”
Clough is unbeaten in seven home Cup ties at the helm of United and he is calling on the Lane faithful to help roar his side into the history books.
“The crowd has played a massive role in our run,” said the Blades’ chief, who is expected to revert to the same side that started against Spurs last week. “
You think back to the Forest game last season, plus the Charlton and Fulham games, we played for quite a long period with 10 men.
“It is an old cliché but the fans really do become the extra man. They really can play that part. We are at home. Around 25,000 of the 30,000 will be cheering us on and we are going to need them”
Last six games: Sheffield United LWWLLD, Tottenham Hotspur DLWWWL.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral). Last time: Sheffield United 2 Tottenham Hotspur 1; February 10, 2007; Premier League.
Out to delay lunch date: Page 23.