Sheffield United vs Tottenham: Cups mean more to clubs outside the Premier League, says Nigel Clough

Blades manager says 'it's finance, prestige, everything' for lower league players

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The Independent Football

As Sheffield United prepared for the night that could propel them to a first League Cup final in their history, Nigel Clough argued that cup competitions mattered more to lower- division footballers than they did to Premier League players and their clubs.

The Sheffield United manager said it would have been hard to imagine Manchester City embarking on a seven-and-a-half hour flight from Abu Dhabi – as they did before being knocked out of the FA Cup by Middlesbrough on Saturday – if they had been facing Chelsea in the league.

Last season’s run to the FA Cup semi-final and this season’s to the Capital One Cup semis have seen Clough’s side overcome four Premier League clubs. They also beat Queen’s Park Rangers in the third round of this season’s FA Cup. Yet United will go into tonight’s second leg of their semi-final against Tottenham at Bramall Lane sitting eighth in League One.

“I don’t think the gap between the Premier League and the rest is closing on a week-to-week basis,” said Clough, whose side will play their 14th cup game of the season tonight. “As a one-off, then maybe it is.

“I think it is down to the Premier League lads not taking the cups as seriously as other players. The cups are so important to lower-league players and their clubs. I don’t think that is matched in the Premier League, even when they put a full side out.

“Whatever Manchester City want to do is their business, but I wonder if they would have had a seven-and-a-half hour flight before a Champions League game or Chelsea on Saturday? It’s little things like that. For the lower-league teams, it’s finance, it’s prestige, it’s everything.”

Nevertheless, the odds favour the Premier League club tonight. Clough conceded that Tottenham’s 1-0 win in the first leg had given them a potentially decisive advantage. Only two lower-league clubs – Middlesbrough in 1998 and Birmingham three years later – have overturned first-leg deficits against top-flight opposition to reach the League Cup final. It is not just history that acts as a barrier – Andros Townsend’s penalty has changed the way the Blades will approach the game.

“That goal has made all the difference,” said Clough. “At 0-0 we could afford to be more cautious – you don’t have to score, you can win on penalties after 120 minutes. But now we have to score and that makes it a different game.

“We need a goal and we can’t concede,” he added. “If we do, it becomes a very  difficult task – you are looking at scoring three. We don’t want to go hell for leather because Tottenham can hit us on the break and, all of a sudden, you are 1-0 down and the game’s over.”