Back to bread and butter for Blades against PNE

Mark McNulty scored in the FA Cup win over QPR
Mark McNulty scored in the FA Cup win over QPR
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Cup kings Sheffield United will turn their attention back to a promotion push when they host Preston North End at Bramall Lane.

The Blades have made a name for themselves in cup competitions.

Last season, they reached the FA Cup semi-finals, beaten 5-3 by Hull City at Wembley.

Ahead of them this month is a two-legged clash with Tottenham in the last four of the Capital One Cup.

And last Sunday, they kept up their cup pedigree with a 3-0 win over Premier League side Queens Park Rangers in the FA Cup at Loftus Road.

That set them up with a fourth-round visit to North End in a fortnight.

On target with two of the goals to help see off QPR was Jamal Campbell-Ryce.

The winger is well known to Preston supporters for all the wrong reasons – it was his challenge in Notts County colours which inflicted the broken leg on Scott Laird two years ago.

Campbell-Ryce moved to United on a Bosman in the summer and seems to have settled in well.

He has netted six goals and fits in with the fast, counter-attacking football which the Blades play.

The 31-year-old says that the club are entering a key period in their league campaign.

United currently occupy sixth place, 15 points shy of the automatic pace.

Said Campbell-Ryce: “The next month to six weeks will define our automatic promotion hopes.

“We’ve got a lot of top sides to come, even looking ahead to Bristol City in February, so it’s massive but at the same time, it’s important that we show no fear. We’re still probably the biggest club in the league so when teams come to play us –they’ll always be up for it no matter where they are in the table.

“It’s a massive six weeks for us and it’s up to us to make it definitive, in a positive way.

“We’ve got to crack on now, or risk falling further behind the top two places.”

Last week’s win at QPR was a huge shot in the arm for United – it was one of the few cup shocks of the round.

“We were over the moon to get the win, it was a fantastic result,” said Campbell-Ryce.

“Of course, we were big underdogs but we gave a really good account of ourselves to register a comfortable victory.

“ The key was, again, that we were fearless.

“QPR are a Premier League club but that’s what cup competitions are all about - who is better on the day, and who wants it more on the day. And on Sunday, that was us.

“I’ve had a decent career and my job is to run at players and get balls in the box, which I managed to do at QPR.

“But the two goals were a huge confidence boost, too. We’re halfway through the season and I’ve got six now, and I said when I arrived I want to make double figures.”

United’s other goal at QPR came from Mark McNulty, the Scotsman getting the ball rolling with a goal on the break.

The former Livingston striker has mainly been used from the bench this season but has still managed to find the net nine times.

Blades assistant manager Chris Morgan has encouraged the players to carry their cup form into the league.

Morgan, No.2 to Nigel Clough, said: “Cups have brought the best out of us.

“We know if we play like we did at QPR, week in, week out, then we’re good enough to be in the top two.

“We haven’t had the results we needed but we’ve actually been quite happy with performances in the league, of late.

“But what we haven’t been doing is killing teams off. Then, they’ve been getting the odd chances and punishing us for that.

“Against QPR we got that second goal. One then two. That enabled us to go on and get the third.

“That’s what we’ve got to take into the league. But the lads know that.

“We ask them,if we can do it against Southampton and QPR, then why can’t we do it against Port Vale, Leyton Orient and the rest? Or against Preston this Saturday. We’ve got to look at that because it’s a massive game.”

MEET THE BOSS:

Nigel Clough, son of football legend Brian Clough, has been Sheffield United’s manager since October 2013. Before that, he managed Derby for more than three-and-a-half years and bossed Burton Albion in their non-league days for a decade. After a slow start to life in charge at Bramall Lane, he guided the Blades to the FA Cup semi-final last season. This season, United have reached the last four of the Capital One Cup under him. As a player, Clough started out under his dad at Nottingham Forest before moving to Liverpool.

MEET THE REF:

It is a rare assignment in charge of a Preston game for Pat Miller at Bramall Lane tomorrow. The Bedfordshire official has only overseen one PNE match in his 10 years on the Football League list – that was a 3-1 defeat at Southampton in February 2009. This will be his 17th game of the season.