Nigel Clough’s team better set up for knockout games

icon cups28 January ~ Sheffield United fans approach tonight's League Cup semi-final second leg with plenty of optimism. With their team showing stuttering league form it's the cup competitions which continue to provide excitement and positivity, following on from last season's march to the FA Cup semi-finals. A raucous full house and vociferous backing at Bramall Lane has created difficult evenings for many a Premier League club over the years and tonight should be no exception.

A 1-0 defeat at White Hart Lane in the first leg would have been considered a good result before the game. However, the nature of the goal, a penalty after an inexplicable handball by Jay McEveley, and the clear lack of goal threat from Spurs left United fans feeling a slight tinge of disappointment at not keeping the scoreline blank. It means that even a victory on the night may not be enough to see United reach their first cup final in 79 years.

United's cup success can be put down to astute tactics from Nigel Clough, whose team thrive against opponents looking to take the game to them. Energetic closing down and slick passing on the break has caused more problems for higher level teams than fellow League One clubs who expect United to take the initiative. The team play in the margins and victories, when they are earned, are often tight. The 3-0 win at QPR in the FA Cup third round showed what the team are capable of with more of a cutting edge to their patient passing game.

Regardless of the result against Spurs, United fans can take great pride from a cup run that has seen them reach a second cup semi-final inside a year. They can also look forward to an FA Cup replay at home to Preston, with the promise of either a winnable home tie against Cambridge United or the chance for another cup shock against Manchester United in the fifth round.

Back in the league, Clough has been a manager under pressure; inconsistent form leaving the club in a disappointing position. With an increasing gap to the top two, the only route out of League One this season appears to be via the play-offs. A not very enticing prospect, given the Blades' record of four play-off final and three semi-final defeats. Yet this cup form might also give hope of breaking that hoodoo at last. Ian Rands

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