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League One

Nigel Clough hails Sheffield United's resolve

18 March 2014

Nigel Clough hailed Sheffield United's resolve after they recorded a club-record eighth successive clean sheet to hold fellow in-form side Preston to a goalless stalemate at Deepdale.

The Blades were put under the cosh for long periods of the Sky Bet League One game - Joe Garner, Josh Brownhill and Paul Gallagher all going close - but they stood firm and although their sequence of 10 straight wins came to an end, they would not be breached in taking their record to 782 minutes without conceding.

Clough's men offered little attacking threat themselves and survived a penalty shout when Bailey Wright's stinging shot struck the visitors captain Michael Doyle on the arm while they were twice forced into defensive reshuffles, Bob Harris and Matt Hill having to come off injured, the latter just four minutes after he had been brought on.

Ex-Derby manager Clough reserved praise for his two centre-backs, Neill Collins and Harry Maguire, as well as Mark Howard, whose latest clean sheet wrote him into the Blades' history books.

"To break the club record, with eight clean sheets on the spin, is great testimony to him," said Clough.

"It's lovely. It just shows however long the club's been going, 125 years, the players should feel really proud of that. We're disappointed the wins have come to an end but, in the circumstances, to get a point here is a great result."

Clough has presided over a remarkable turnaround since arriving at Bramall Lane in October and admits their latest display epitomised the spirit among a squad who have an FA Cup semi-final to contest next month.

He added: "Mental strength, a bit of character - it's all those things. When you come here and get put under pressure...six or eight weeks ago I don't think we'd have withstood it and we'd have got beaten 1-0 or 2-0 but there's that mentality and belief now that we're going to get that clean sheet."

North End stretched their own unbeaten run to 12 league games yet, with aspirations to break into the division's automatic promotion berths, they will surely view this as a missed chance. Simon Grayson's men now lie seven points behind second-placed Brentford, who have two games in hand.

"I'm hugely frustrated because we played very well," he admitted.

"We dominated the game against a very strong, resilient Sheffield United, who are on a good run at this moment in time. When you look back on the stats and you've had 61% of the game, 20 attempts on target, I couldn't ask for much more from the players other than the one thing which wins football matches and that's scoring goals. We just didn't quite get the breaks."

Clough bemoaned a penalty his side did not get in the closing stages, when Maguire was wrestled to the turf by Tom Clarke, yet Grayson was incensed referee Geoff Eltringham failed to spot Doyle's first-half handball.

"He'll be aware of the mistake because it's a blatant penalty when you see it on the replays," the North End manager added.

"He's in a good position - he's not blocked by anyone, the referee. He's 10 yards away and it's a massive miss."

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