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Clough relies on Scots, just like his Dad

BRIAN CLOUGH always swore by a liberal sprinkling of Scots as his Nottingham Forest side were carrying all before them at the turn of the eighties.

Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough enjoys pitching his Scottish players against 'England' in training. Picture: Scott Heavey/Getty Images
Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough enjoys pitching his Scottish players against 'England' in training. Picture: Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Now his son Nigel is keeping the family tradition alive at Sheffield United.

No fewer than six Scots are primed to play a part as the Blades, of League One, travel to Wembley to take on Premier League luminaries Hull City in Sunday's FA Cup semi-final, echoing the influence which the likes of John McGovern, Archie Gemmill, Kenny Burns, John Robertson and others exerted on Clough senior's back-to-back European Cup winning sides of 1979 and 1980.

This time the men in question are centre half Neill Collins, full-back Bob Harris, midfielders Stefan Scougall and Stephen McGinn, and wingers Ryan Flynn and Jamie Murphy, with Clough revealing that 7-a-side battles between the Auld Enemy at training has been the bedrock of the remarkable cup success which has already taken them beyond Aston Villa and Fulham.

"The Scottish lads have been brilliant," said Clough. "It's a nice little group they've got, although it's not a separate little group or anything like that. But it's good having that base with the six or seven of them . . . and it also means we have some good games in training.

"We have the English against the Scots, the Scots against The Rest and all that sort of thing," he added. "We're usually one or two short, so anybody who looks Scottish or knows anyone Scottish is in - Terry Kennedy, the centre-half with red hair, is usually the one. He pleads not to go in, says he's from Barnsley and everything, but he looks a bit Scottish so he gets lumped in there.

"The games have been pretty even. Of course, we don't put any money on it, because if we did then the Scots would win every time. If there's a pound on it, they're not too keen on losing."

Aside from that old chestnut, Clough Jr jokes about difficulties of translation, but the Scottish strand of his managerial modus operandi is also paying delayed dividends at Derby, where he recruited players like Craig Bryson and Johnny Russell before his departure. While Scougall was signed under his own watch, equally impressive has been coaxing better performances from inherited players such as Murphy and Flynn.

"Yeah they [Scots] always did make an impression on me," said Clough. "When I was at Derby I always thought it was a good market for us. I'd say the best lad we bought at Derby over our years was Craig Bryson. We've got someone like Stefan Scougall now who's in that sort of mould, not quite as good as Craig at the moment but he could be down the line. You find their attitudes are great, they want to come and play in England. Financially it works out well too.

"The likes of Murphy and Flynn have been brilliant," he added. "But they were on the fringes of things a few months back. Jamie Murphy was always quite well thought of coming down from Motherwell. He hadn't had too many chances but I just wanted him to do what he is good at. That's running with the ball, whether it's from a wide position or central. A couple of draws and a couple of wins and you see them flourish. That's what's happened with those two especially."

The elder statesman of Sheffield's Scottish clan is Collins, a man who has been away from his native country for a decade now, has won the championship twice (first with Sunderland then Wolves) but still remains largely incognito in his own country. The 30-year-old admitted training does get a tad competitive at times, even if he did question referee Clough's version of events.

"We played one of those England v Scotland games before one of the big FA Cup ties and we were 4-0 up at half-time," said Collins. "But funnily enough we played a lot longer in the second half. I'm not kidding you - I was losing the head - but we held out for the win."

Collins is a veteran of the club's League One play-off final defeat to Huddersfield on penalties in 2012, but also has more than a passing acquaintance with national stadia from his days coming through the ranks with Queen's Park at Hampden, where he made his senior debut aged 17. "I got used to Hampden, just not when it was full," Collins joked. "I got used to the ball going into the stand, then taking five minutes to get it back."

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