By Tony Leighton
Sheffield Wednesday are nicknamed the Owls, but local rivals Sheffield United have become the Night Owls in a long sequence of floodlit games that have dramatically turned the course of their Sky Bet League 1 season.
A run of 11 unbeaten evening matches, the last 10 of them in League 1 after being sparked by an FA Cup replay win at Premier League side Fulham, have helped the Blades climb from second bottom to eighth in the table.
Manager Nigel Clough's only disappointment in his team's latest night time success, at ninth in the table Port Vale on Friday, was that a goal was conceded as the Valiants took the lead through midfielder Louis Dodds.
Late goals by striker Jamie Murphy and substitute Chris Porter gave United victory, but Clough told football-league.co.uk: "The goal we gave away was the first we've conceded away in these 11 games that have had an evening kick-off.
"But it's still a great record with nine wins and two draws in the run. The belief within the team has been gradually building, and the spirit they have was shown in abundance with the way they kept going to beat a good Port Vale team."
United's turnaround in form took a little to while kick-start following Clough's October appointment. But after his first 14 league games brought just 17 points, the last 17 have seen a tremendous return of 37 points from a possible 51.
The Blades also famously reached the FA Cup semi-final, the first third tier side to do so in 13 years, beating Premier League Aston Villa as well as Fulham en route before losing at Wembley to another top flight team, Hull City.
In those last 17 league games only runaway leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers have surpassed the Blades' record, and if Clough's men can replicate that kind of form next season then they should be among the front runners for promotion.
That will be the aim, says the manager, who in the meanwhile will be urging his players to end the current campaign with a flourish in games at Oldham Athletic - another evening kick-off, on Tuesday - and finally at home to Coventry City.
"We can't make the Play-Offs in spite of our great run," said Clough, "but in less than three months we've gone from second bottom to eighth in the table and there's still a lot of pride to play for in these last couple of matches.
"We want to cement eighth place and then build on the run we've had next season. We'll need to bring in a few players to strengthen the squad, but the aim will be to try and get in the top six and the top two if possible."
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