Sheffield United v Oldham: Blackstock still target for Blades as Clough plays a waiting game

Nigel Clough hopes his persistence will pay off next week in his efforts to bring in a striker to Sheffield United.

Diego De Girolamo.

The Blades boss has been thwarted in efforts to sign Nottingham Forest’s Dexter Blackstock and former Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley forward Chris O’Grady - now at Brighton - this week.

But with the emergency loans deadline next Thursday, Clough is keeping his fingers crossed a deal can still be thrashed out.

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“We are still making calls,” said Clough yesterday. “Been put off with a couple, who will make a decision Monday or Tuesday next week.

“The loan transfer closes on Thursday and it’s a bit like the transfer window, it goes to the wire and clubs like to leave it as long as possible before they make that decision.

“Both the players we have asked about are involved over the weekend, so it’s a case of hoping those clubs don’t pick up any injuries, get good results.

“There’s a chance we will get one the middle of next week, which we will do even if Michael Higdon and Marc McNulty come back (from injury).

“There’s a couple of names that we keep contacting clubs about, pestering them.

“It’s frustrating but that’s the way it is in football. There’s no point in us taking any old player, they have to be of a certain quality and standard to improve the team.

“Even without this striker coming in, I think we have had a pretty good run.”

Forest striker Blackstock - the 28-year-old had a loan spell at Leeds United last season - rejected a loan move to Bramall Lane this week, hoping to attract another Championship club.

But Clough will be back in touch with his former Forest team-mate Stuart Pearce - now in charge at the City Ground - next week to see if Blackstock will change his mind.

“It’s his prerogative to stay at Forest,” admitted Clough. “I phoned Stuart (Pearce) and I know he wants to get him out and play some games.

“Ideally, players want to stay in the same league they are in. They don’t want to drop down, even to a club this size.

“But we keep asking and will go back next week and see if he has changed his mind.

“As the week goes on, and it gets closer to the window closing on Thursday, it may change.

“I don’t think players don’t want to play, they just want to play at that certain level.

“I can understand that. What the fear is, they drop down, say it doesn’t go so well and people will say they are struggling in League One. Then a Championship club might not fancy them.

“You just keep asking. Clubs are worried about injuries, whether in games or training, and leaving themselves short,” added Clough, who dismissed links with Cardiff City’s Nicky Maynard.

A new signing, and the imminent return to fitness of McNulty and Higdon, means youngster Diego De Girolamo will be allowed to return to York City on loan.

The Italian forward scored three times on loan for the Minstermen before a striker shortage forced his recall to South Yorkshire.

“As soon as we get one in, or the other two are fit, then Diego can resume and get some experience at York,” said Clough.

“We have said the first chance we get, he can go, but while he is the 18 - and he will be against Oldham - we can’t do it.

“As soon as Higdon and McNulty are fit - even if we don’t bring anyone else in - he can go and get some experience.

“He had a great few weeks there, got some goals, and ideally we didn’t want to break it, but we had to.”

Today, Oldham are the visitors in League One, in a run of five successive home games for the Blades.

Clough sees it as a perfect opportunity to try and close the gap on the division’s top two.

He said: “We have some tricky games. Oldham, MK Dons and Notts County - two of those in the top six - are three difficult games at any time, but especially the form they are in.

“But we want to get a few points on the board and cement our place in the top six. See if we can improve on that and get towards the top two.

“We are playing well, consistently. Apart from a half hour spell against Doncaster, we have played at a consistent level in recent games.

“You can see a pattern emerging of how we want to play and how we are causing teams problems.”

While the Blades would love a prolific striker like Oldham’s Sheffield-born Jonathan Forte in their ranks, Clough can at least console himself with the knowledge United have scoring threats from several different areas.

“You don’t need a striker scoring lots of goals to be in a good run of form,” he smiled.

“It helps, but it also makes you think if this lad wasn’t scoring goals would we be as good?

“We are not over-relying on any one individual at the moment.

“Ryan Flynn weighed in with two goals the other night, Jamie Murphy got the winner at Doncaster, and we know Jose Baxter is capable of getting goals. They have to come from all over.”

Baxter will be facing his former club today, and Clough believes the former Everton youngster has added a new element to his game.

“He’s playing well. Someone remarked that they had never seen him work so hard as he did at Doncaster last week.

“I think he is in that nice run of form at the moment, working harder than he has even done in his career probably, but he is enjoying it. He is enjoying the role he is playing.”

Clough hopes Higdon and McNulty will return from injury lay-offs next week, although the latter will need a mask to protect a facial injury.

“Marc is having his mask fitting, with a view to training next week, and Michael is not far away,”

Asked how long McNulty would have the mask, Clough joked: “Depends how much better looking it makes him.”