David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘Sheffield United’

Faith and Togetherness Restored

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

unnamedAs a Blade you get used to thinking about what could have been but this season it all feels a bit different. Yes we could have made the playoffs had we not been utterly useless for half a season and yes we may have made the FA Cup Final if we had held firm in the first 20 minutes of the second half at Wembley, yet I still don’t find myself constantly going over our short comings in my head.

Since that watershed moment on 1st February where we were comprehensively beaten by Crewe, the club seems to have been returned to the fans and the community and there is an overwhelming sense of togetherness both on and off the pitch. Even when times were good under the likes of Neil Warnock there were always doubters and the odd section of the crowd that still wasn’t happy with what they saw and how the team was progressing.

This doesn’t seem to be the case now however and Nigel Clough has brought a level of belief and happiness that seems relatively unparalleled when compared to previous regimes. Part of this must be down to the abomination that was our form prior to Clough taking over and the fact that things couldn’t get any worse but this certainly isn’t the overriding factor in the current feeling of togetherness at the Lane.

The club now appears to have a group of players that will run through brick walls for each other and who understand what the fans expect from them. Working your backside off should be a pre-requisite of playing for United and the current squad seems to have taken this on board. I also feel that we have now lost the underlying sense of arrogance that sometimes seemed to run through the club.

The arrogance I refer to is the apparent belief that we had a divine right to win games because we are the biggest club in the league and because on paper we should be challenging to get out of this league rather than to stay in it. Nigel Clough is a muck and nettles type of guy and it is clear to see that he believes all players must apply the basics before then looking to provide flair and individuality to their game. It is fantastic to see that the players he has inherited and retained during the transfer window have bought into this along with the fresh faces that were brought in during the last few months.

Looking forward to next season I think there is genuine reason to feel optimistic that we should enjoy a successful season but I think there is also now a sense of realism throughout the club that nothing will be given to us. The first team squad is by no means complete and some shrewd acquisitions are required during the summer. Our lack of goals are still a cause for concern and if we are going to get out of this league at the fourth time of asking then this must be addressed, When we are on top in games we must find the penetration to ensure that we take our chances and put games to bed.

When our retained list is released in the near future we will all have a better idea of where we need to strengthen but it is clear that attacking players will be the main focal point of the clubs summer shopping list. Another matter that will no doubt be addressed soon will be the long term availability of some of the loan players that have been a huge part of our resurgence in the last three.

I would be amazed if Ben Davies wasn’t signed on a free when his contract expires as his experience and versatility could prove invaluable. Conor Coady’s situation at Liverpool will be monitored very closely and I personally think we will be able to retain his services next season as the lad clearly loved his time at Bramall Lane this season and I would be very surprised if Brendan Rogers felt he was going to be part of his first-team squad.

This then leaves Billy Paynter, Kieron Freeman and John Brayford. I won’t spend long dwelling on the merits of signing Paynter as he has offered nothing and I would happily thank him for his contribution and send him back to Doncaster. Now that Freeman and Brayford have returned to their parent clubs we are left without a recognised right back at the club (assuming Daryl Westlake moves on to pastures new which looks likely) so I would therefore imagine that we will look to sign one of them for next season be it on a permanent or temporary basis.

I am sure plenty of people will disagree with me on this but I would look to sign Kieron Freeman on a permanent basis rather than looking to bring back Brayford. John Brayford has been fantastic for the team and the club as a whole and he is the best right back in the division by far, I am not disputing this. The issue I have is that we would only be able to sign him on loan again as there is no way on earth we will be able to afford to by him. We would therefore probably have to make a sizeable contribution to his wages and I feel this money could be better spent elsewhere.

As good as Brayford is, Kieron Freeman would be a more than adequate full back at this level and would probably cost us a fraction of the money. At the end of the day, a right back won’t win you games but a top striker will and this is where our money should be spent.

I trust Clough to bring the right faces in during the summer and I think with a couple of top quality acquisitions at both ends of the pitch we will be well set to mount a serious attack on automatic promotion next season. I am sure that everybody at the club from the board room through the supporters will learn from the mistakes of the first six months of last season and we have real reason to be optimistic. Let’s not forget however that this is Sheffield United we are talking about, since when have we done things the easy way?

Written by Ian Parkes, We Are Going Up’s Sheffield United blogger

Ian tweets at @ijparkes

The Window of Opportunity

Friday, January 10th, 2014

jamie-murphy-sheffield-unitedThe January transfer window is notoriously difficult for clubs and managers. Can you keep hold of your best players? Can you ship out a few of the also ran’s and players who have passed their peak? Can you sign the players that you think will help you kick on in the second half of the season?

These are all questions that will be asked by Nigel Clough and the Blades hierarchy over the next three weeks. The worry of retaining the clubs biggest assets may not be too much of a concern but recruitment and the removal of players no longer in the managers plans will be paramount to how the rest of United’s season will pan out.

So far we have seen a number of departures both permanent and temporary as well as a single addition to date. Of the departures, I don’t think the release of Marlon King and Marcus Williams will have brought a tear to many a Blades fan’s eye and were expected for quite some time now. The loan departures of Sean McGinty and youngster Jahmal Smith make perfect sense to ensure the progression of their career and with neither threatening the first team, won’t have any impact on Nigel Clough’s short term plans.

The one piece of business that may have raised a few eyebrows is the decision to allow Lyle Taylor to join Partick Thistle on loan until the end of the season. Though Taylor hasn’t exactly set the division alight since signing on at the Lane, I do feel he offered something different and given a sustained run in the team I think he may have contributed a few goals. Clough clearly feels that a run of games North of the border will improve Taylor’s confidence and hopefully this will be the case. I hope we inserted a 24 hour recall into the agreement as should Taylor hit the ground running it would be stupid not to bring him back into the fold. You can never have too many in form strikers in your squad after all!

The one new recruit to date is the loan signing of Billy Paynter from Doncaster Rovers. The striker will spend the rest of the season at the Lane. Of all the frontmen that United have been linked with so far in the transfer window, Paynter represents the most underwhelming of the lot. He does have a good record at this level and has scored goals for teams in the past but his lack of mobility and shall we say, not so aerodynamic physique, don’t really endear him to me and a lot of fans.

My main concern is that Paynter appears to be desperately unfit and it may take weeks or even months to get him match fit. Should he return to the form which saw him score a lot of goals with Port Vale and Swindon Town then he could turn out to be an excellent replacement for the ever reliable, yet limited Chris Porter. If this is to be the only striking addition this month, it does appear to represent a little bit of a gamble given how quickly we need him to find his form and his fitness.

There have been many rumours doing the rounds in recent days and weeks about who else may be leaving Bramall Lane for pastures new. Jamie Murphy was a target for Terry Butcher at Hibs but given his recent upturn in form, it would appear the exit door is now shut and the Scotsman will form a key part of Clough’s side for the rest of the season. I have a lot of faith in Murphy and the way he plays the game and I think his recent performances have shown that whilst still remaining a little inconsistent, he undoubtedly has the potential and the ability to cause problems for any defence in this league.

Murphy will always drift in and out of games but this can be said for most wingers up and down the country. Wingers with pace and who aren’t frightened to run at defenders will always cause problems and we must have players like this in and around the team. That unpredictability and potential to change a game can never be underestimated.

This leads me nicely on to the curious case of Febian Brandy. Whilst his disciplinary record leaves a lot to be desired, you cannot dispute the ability he has. In my opinion, Brandy is comfortably our most dangerous player and should certainly be retained for the remainder of the season at least. He is unpredictable, quick, direct and has more skill on the ball than the rest of the squad put together.

Brandy has the ability to completely turn a game on its head and Jose Baxter aside, we really don’t have anyone else in the squad capable of this. I am therefore both baffled and devastated that Clough would appear to be willing to allow him to join another team on loan. Right now it is hard to drop either Jamie Murphy or Ryan Flynn from the starting XI which won’t help Brandy’s cause but I would very surprised if there is another impact player like him sat on any other bench in this division.

The recent defeat against Walsall to me underlines that there must be some sort of issue with Brandy and manager Clough. We created nothing from the minute we scored the opening goal. The game was clearly drifting away from us and we were crying out for that little spark. We were playing against Brandy’s former club, he had been heckled all game and he had a point to prove to both Walsall and to United yet he remained on the bench until the last five minutes. Surely the game was set up for him to come on and show what he could do? I am worried that Clough is letting his principles get the better of him on this one and he is cutting off his nose to spite his face.

It remains to be seen who could be the next player through the door in S2 but from what has been said, it would appear that defensive reinforcements are not top of the club’s priorities. This surprises me to some extent as we are clearly lacking cover in all departments at the back and we are still conceding far too many goals. Clough says he is happy to keep faith with Terry Kennedy as cover at centre-back which I applaud to an extent as I am all for giving youth its chance, however I can’t help thinking that the recruitment of an experienced and competent centre back might provide the completion and the kick up the backside that Neil Collins requires.

I am not a fan of Collins and I think he has been at fault for far too many goals already this season. I also think that for such an experienced player he offers little to no leadership of what is a very average and at times disorganised back four and goalkeeper. At present it is too easy for him and Maguire when they know irrespective of their form, they will play every week. I do also have my concerns over Tony McMahon as I think he has gone steadily backwards since we signed him but for now I can’t see him being replaced. McMahon could certainly learn a lot from the consistency and discipline of Matt Hill in the other full back position.

The one area of the pitch that I think needs addressing above all else is the centre of the park. The games against Oldham and Walsall in recent weeks highlighted our need to find a player who can put his foot on the ball and make the team tick. Since selling Kevin McDonald we have seen a number of players fill the position alongside Michael Doyle, none of whom have really excelled.

Stephen McGinn is a capable footballer and certainly has something to offer at this level but he has a tendency to give the ball away cheaply and lacks the ability to control and dictate a game. He is however the best option we have at the moment, especially given Nigel Clough’s reluctance to give Flo Cuvelier a chance to show what he can do. I can’t help but think that especially in home games, Cuvelier would be a much better option than McGinn.

As Cuvelier appears to be joining Febian Brandy in leaving the club on a temporary basis, we must sign someone who can stop us being out played in the middle of the park. We were passed to death by Sawyers and Chambers at Walsall on New Years Day and we must sign a player who is capable of doing this to other teams. Without a player capable of keeping the ball, we will continue to get over run and we will remain incapable of creating chances for the attacking players at our disposal.

Alan Judge would have been an ideal candidate but a move for the former Notts County playmaker failed to materialise. One player who does appear to be available and could make a difference is Luke Freeman at Stevenage who seems to tick all the boxes. He is young, creative and has a fantastic left foot. I haven’t seen a lot of him in recent months but from what I have seen in the past, I think he would certainly be worth a punt.

Whatever happens in the next few weeks, the proper rebuilding process under Nigel Clough will more than likely take place during the summer when players are available at a more reasonable price and business can be conducted over a much longer period of time. For me personally the jury is still out on Clough and the way he plays but I think it would be unfair to judge him fully until probably this time next year.

At present I find his tactics and mentality alarmingly negative but I am hoping this is purely down to our precarious league position and the players at his disposal. If we are still playing central midfielders as wingers and goal shy target men through the middle come January next year, I fear we may be in the same position we find ourselves in now.

Written by Ian Parkes, We Are Going Up’s Sheffield United blogger

Ian tweets at @ijparkes

Progression Through Negativity

Saturday, December 7th, 2013

NC

Since Nigel Clough assumed his position in the manager’s office at Bramall Lane, the team have lost just twice in seven games, including three wins. On the face of it, this can be seen as steady progression and a vast improvement on what preceded it. All Blades fans would happily have taken this return following a dreadful first two and a half months of the season. I’m not sure however that many fans could have predicted which games would yield valuable points and which would end in disappointment. I don’t think anyone would have predicted that we would come away from Leyton Orient and Bristol City without defeat, nor would they have expected us to pick up just one point from home games against Gillingham and Walsall.

I completely agree with Clough when he says we need to ensure we are hard to beat and that we need to try and keep the score to ‘nil’ but I can’t help thinking this shouldn’t be achieved by removing all positivity and ambition from the team. The manager’s policy of playing four very defensively minded midfielders is fine away from home, particularly against teams who are higher than us in the table or who should be favourites to roll us over. I don’t however agree with this policy when playing at home and certainly not against a team like Gillingham who were frankly appalling and were there to be beaten. I was also left infuriated by the fact we clearly had no intention of trying to win the Walsall game until the last 15 minutes when Jamie Murphy was introduced. Had we been a little more expansive in our last 2 home games I can’t help but think we would be at least three points better off, if not five.

In those two home games the manager has chosen to use a combination of Lappin, Flynn, Doyle, McGinn, White and Coady in the middle of the park. In there we have two left backs, three defensive central midfield players and the worlds slowest and most negative right winger. Hardly a midfield that will frighten the opposition or more importantly provide any service to our strikers. I can see the logic from Clough that he doesn’t want us to lose but by playing a midfield packed with workers rather than footballers we will never score goals from open play. We have scored one goal from open play in our last six games with the rest coming from penalties, set pieces and own goals. Given our inability to keep the ball out at the other end, we will more often than not need to score more than once if we are going to win a game and this just isn’t happening at the moment. I’m not suggesting that we go gung ho and try and win games 4-3 but there needs to be a happy medium if we are to progress up the table. Tellingly, the attendance for the last home game was our lowest of the season and if we continue to serve up such negative football at home then the number of fans coming through the turnstiles will only continue to diminish.

Personally, I am a huge fan of players with pace and/or an element of unpredictability as these are attributes that all opposing players hate. There needs to be an end product and some creativity in there as well (take Jonathon Forte as an example of how not to use your attributes to the best of your ability) but players who can carry the ball 40 yards or who can buy you a set piece from nothing are essential if you are going to create chances and cause problems for the opposition. There are players within the current squad who are capable of carrying the ball at pace or of creating a chance from nothing but they seem to be getting over looked in favour of players who will work hard with very little quality to show for it.

The player who obviously ticks all these boxes is Febian Brandy but through his own stupidity and lack of discipline he has been unavailable for the majority of Nigel Clough’s tenure. Clough is a man of principle it would seem given his reluctance to pick Marlon King and Callum McFadzean being farmed out on loan and Brandy’s indiscretion doesn’t seem to have endeared him to his new boss. If we are to start creating chances and giving other teams something to think about when defending then Brandy and Clough need to kiss and make up quickly. Brandy’s work rate cannot be questioned so if Clough does trust him in the starting eleven then hopefully this should ensure he will stay in the team once he is reinstated. I would also be inclined to give Jamie Murphy another chance to show what he can do. I agree with most that Murphy has been a massive disappointment since his January move from Motherwell, but if the manager can coax the undoubted potential out of Murphy then we could have two of the most direct and frightening wide men in the division.

In the middle of the park it seems that despite what appears to be a complete lack of form, leadership and ability Michael Doyle will continue to be picked every week so unfortunately there is only one position up for grabs in the engine room. We have several options available in there (all of which offer more than the infuriating Doyle in my opinion) and I would be happy to see any of them given a prolonged spell in there. Stephen McGinn is a player I like and who I think has the ability to control a midfield at this level but I don’t think he can do this when he has to play alongside Captain Fantastic. As a result, I would be inclined to use McGinn away from home and against better sides where we need to dominate the middle of the pitch with work rate and simple possession rather than with creativity and direction. I am yet to see enough of Florent Cuvelier on a consistent basis to say with conviction that he is the man for the job but I certainly think he deserves a chance in there. He has shown glimpses of being a very tidy footballer with an eye for a pass which will be crucial if we are going to squeeze more goals out of our shot shy side. If I was in the managers hot seat I would be putting my faith in McGinn and Cuvelier with Connor Coady as a more than able deputy but I don’t think we are likely to see that partnership any time soon.

Our next game sees a potential banana skin of a cup tie and I think there will be a lot of neutrals who will be putting their money on Cambridge United to cause an upset. I am hoping to see an attack minded team selection from Clough with a few fringe players given a chance to stake a claim for a start in our next league game against Swindon Town. If we play a negative team against the Conference side on Sunday then this will only encourage them to have a go at us and with the home crowd behind them this could spell disaster. We have the quality to hurt them and I think if we were to get out of the blocks quickly and score an early goal we could go on to dominate the tie. Due to Tony McMahon’s suspension and Aidy White’s ineligibility there will be at least two enforced changes but I hope to see a few more experimental selections. With this in mind, my starting eleven would be: Howard, Kennedy, Maguire, McGinty, Hill, Brandy, Cuvelier, McGinn, Murphy, Taylor and Miller. We are very short of options at right back so though it is not his usual position, I would like to see Terry Kennedy given a chance to get some minutes under his belt. With the wide players and the two strikers I have picked we have enough pace and intelligence to put Cambridge to the sword and I think a goal or two for the likes of Miller or Taylor could do the world of good for their confidence. I can’t see Clough agreeing with my selection but hopefully the team he picks will be capable of scoring goals against a side ranked two divisions below us.

Though it may seem that I have been quite scathing about Nigel Clough’s reign to date, I am pleased with the way he has made us more difficult to beat and results have been considerably better than those served up by the previous regime. Away from home we have become more resolute and we are making progress up the table but I think it is now time that we started to introduce a bit more quality and creativity into our starting eleven.

To finish on a positive note, I would like to mention how refreshing it is to have someone like Jim Phipps involved with the day to day running of our club. Jim is a breath of fresh air in terms of a link between the fans and the club and his continual communication via Twitter is something that I know all the fans have been incredibly impressed by. To take time out of a busy schedule to answer the questions and queries of the fans is something that he doesn’t have to do but says a lot about the man that he still finds the time to do so. Long may this continue.

Written by Ian Parkes, We Are Going Up’s Sheffield United blogger

Ian tweets at @ijparkes

Quality over quantity

Friday, November 8th, 2013

NigelCloughSUFCThere is no doubt that Nigel Clough has inherited a squad that is full of ability and should possess enough talent to help Sheffield United climb away from the bottom four and towards the top six in the table. All the way through the squad from the goalkeeper through to the strikers we have a squad that will be the envy of most of the clubs in this division. Unfortunately we are yet to see the squad we have get anywhere close to reaching their full potential. One reason for this, in my humble opinion, is that we have a squad that is far too big and the balance of the squad is all wrong.

One of David Weir’s major downfalls was his inability to keep the same team from one week to the next. You will never win games by changing your team week in week out, particularly at this level and Weir found this out the hard way as his tinkering contributed heavily to our wretched start to the season and his demise as our manager. Nigel Clough must settle quickly on his favoured 11 in order to allow partnerships and on field relationships to build.

What I find alarming is the plethora of players we have in certain positions. We now have five players who can all play in the left back position yet we only have two recognised centre halves? We have five central midfielders (six if you include Simon Lappin who played in there against Shrewsbury) yet we appear worryingly lightweight in terms of quality strikers.

Though I agree that our squad did lack depth at the start of the campaign, David Weir’s scattergun approach to making acquisitions has only served to hinder us further. What would happen if Collins and Maguire were to pick up injuries over the next couple of weeks? Obviously no blame can be apportioned to Nigel Clough for this but he is now left with a squad full of players and only 11 positions to fill every week. It is essential that he finds a way to keep the whole squad happy, until January at least, as the last thing we need is a training ground full of unhappy players and damaged egos.

There are certain players from David Weir’s legacy who must now wonder how they are going to fit into Nigel Clough’s plans. Clough appears to like to play a fairly simple 4-4-2 with players playing in orthodox positions and in an orthodox manor and this may not suit the games of certain individuals. Jose Baxter for example does not appear to fit anywhere into this formation and I think will find himself limited to a bit part role under the new regime.

Sadly, I think this may also be the case for young Connor Coady. In the handful of games he has started Coady has looked assured on the ball and appears to have the desire to drive the midfield on and to keep the ball moving. I do though fear that he will be seen as being surplus to requirements behind the likes of Doyle (who appears to be inexplicably undroppable which is another bone of contention for me), McGinn and Lappin and I also think the flair of Cuvelier may push him above Coady in the pecking order.

Amongst the players who may now have their nose pushed out of joint by the new manager there will be players who will undoubtedly benefit from our return to a more established system and formation. The wide players at United’s disposal must have let out a collective sigh of relief when David Weir left as they will once again be able to ‘get chalk on their boots’ and provide the much needed width and delivery that we have lacked throughout the majority of this season.

In turn it will also have been a welcome sight for the likes of Lyle Taylor and Marlon King to see players now in positions to deliver crosses and cut backs from wide areas. This will undoubtedly create more chances and give the strikers a lot more ammunition to feed off. A more ridged formation should also now mean that our full backs can concentrate on defending and ensuring that we aren’t caught out in wide areas with worrying regularity like we were for the first two months of the season.

I have no doubt that the new manager and the tactics he will adopt will bring the best out of the squad but I can’t help thinking that there may be another relatively high turnover of players once the January transfer window opens for business. There are several players in the squad that will need to be shipped out as well as reinforcements being brought in in key areas of the pitch.

Centre-back should be the main area of concern for Clough come the January window but all we can do for now is hope we have enough cover in this area to carry us up the league in the interim. Not only are we short in this position in terms of numbers but I personally thinks Neil Collins’ time is up and we should be looking to replace him, not just provide cover for him.

With the re-emergence of Shaun Miller from the treatment table and a more attack minded formation I feel confident that we will now start to see our fortunes change in front of goal. Lyle Taylor is starting to look more like a player who belongs at this level with every game and Shaun Miller seems to have picked up where he left off in the short cameo appearances he has made so far. Miller will more than likely start the cup game at the weekend I wouldn’t be at all surprised if his name is on the score sheet come full time in Colchester.

The intelligence, speed of thought and poaching ability that Miller has in his arsenal will be of paramount importance to United as the season unfolds and I genuinely believe that once he is 100% match fit he could be the catalyst for a sustained push towards the top half of the table.

I am however a little concerned by Marlon King and what he brings to both the club and the team. On the face of it, King should be a fantastic player for us at this level and should have the ability to score the goals that push us towards the play offs. Unfortunately I can’t help but feel that this is a final pay day for King and that his heart isn’t really in it. I would question whether he has the desire or the inner motivation for what is currently a fight to get away from relegation. I really hope I am proved wrong but I personally think he will be gone once the January window opens and a more glamorous alternative becomes available

The next three league games are vital if we are to quickly push our way up the table and away from the relegation zone. Nigel Clough needs to be brave and pick a team that will cause the opposition problems rather than worrying about the opposition and I think he will do that. In a month’s time I am hoping we will be 10 to 12 points better off and we will be looking up the table rather than down. However, this is Sheffield United and we don’t do things the easy way.

Written by Ian Parkes, We Are Going Up’s Sheffield United blogger

Ian tweets at @ijparkes

When Will The Fat Lady Sing?

Friday, October 11th, 2013

DW

I was hoping in the 3 weeks that have passed since my last blog I would have something positive to write about. I thought by now we would have picked up a few more points and scored a few more goals and there would be a slight whiff of optimism in the air. Sadly things have gone from bad to worse and confidence on the pitch and in the stands has reached an all time low. We have scored 1 goal in the last month and taken one solitary point, both of which came against Crawley last Friday night. To cap off what has been a thoroughly miserable season so far we have also been unceremoniously dumped out of two cup competitions by sides from League 2. Not only have we been beaten by Burton and Hartlepool but we have been comfortably brushed aside without offering anything more than a whimper.

It pains me to be sitting here with the team in the diabolical state that it is and with our status in League 1 being under threat. When the season started I would never have envisaged that the 1st two months of the season would have turned out as they have. I think I share the views of most Blades when I say the thought of being outside the top 6 at this stage was unthinkable but the dyer league position we find ourselves in at present is incomprehensible.

When appointed, David Weir seemed to tick all the boxes and even after the 1st 2 or 3 games of the season I was confident he could turn things around. As time has passed it has become more and more apparent that he is disappointingly out of his depth and seems to be totally bereft of ideas as to how we might get out of the predicament we are in. The defeat to Hartlepool in the JPT confirmed this more than any other morale sapping defeat to date. We were comprehensively beaten and but for some poor finishing by the visitors, the score could easily have been more emphatic.

Following the embarrassing defeat to Hartlepool, I was hoping our fearless leader would come out and announce his resignation with immediate effect. Having realised this probably wasn’t likely I thought he may at least tell us what went wrong and provide us with a passionate riposte and an insight into how immediate changes would be made before the trip to Sixfields on Sunday. What followed in Weir’s interview with Andy Giddings from Radio Sheffield was unfathomable. Providing short, one word answers throughout and answering questions with the air of a spoilt child who wasn’t getting his own way was not only rude, arrogant and downright ignorant but showed a lack of class that I didn’t think Weir would reduce himself to.

If the result alone wasn’t cause enough to provide David Weir with his P45 then this interview should have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was impressed with the professionalism of Andy Giddings who went about his job fantastically despite the curt responses from Weir but it was sad to listen to our manager conduct himself in the way that he did. In that one interview alone he has dragged his own name and more importantly the name of the club through the mud. I hope the hierarchy at the club heard his interview and have reminded him of his duties as a manager and the debt he owes the fans of this club. The least he could have done was provide a professional and courteous summary of the night’s events.

I see no way back for Weir now and I am amazed that he remains in a job. I appreciate that the players haven’t covered themselves in glory but we have a better squad than we had this time last year and we are sat in the bottom 3 of the division. Good players don’t become bad players overnight. Maybe the style of football that has been played this season will work somewhere else but this experiment has now run its course and it is time for the club to take the plunge and cut our losses.

One reason that the club are yet to terminate the contract of Weir could be the lack of an obvious replacement. Having had a look through the list of out of work managers on the League Managers Associations website, it is clear that there are no stand out candidates. The likes of Michael Appleton, Steve Cotterill, Roy Keane and Paul Jewell wouldn’t fill even the most optimistic of fans with confidence. Other jobless managers such as Roberto Di Matteo, Tony Pulis and Martin O’Neil would obviously be miles out of league and not even worth contemplation. As a result it therefore means the board will more than likely have to recruit a manager who is already in a job. Hopefully our new co-owner will be able to provide the funds required to compensate any team whose manager we poach.

Having had a look up and down the leagues there are still no names that jump out and make you think ‘it’s got to be him’ or ‘he would be perfect’. There are a handful of managers that are currently doing a good job at their respective clubs but are unlikely to want to leave their current position. Uwe Rosler had a great 1st season at Brentford but is unlikely to want to come to a club in the bottom 3 in the league and given his relative lack of experience, I don’t think he would be the right appointment. Phil Parkinson may be a safe choice as he has been around the block a bit now and has done a great job at Bradford but I still don’t think he has enough experience of managing a big club or a club with the expectations that would be placed upon him if he was to take the hot seat at the lane.

If I was Kevin McCabe and I was asked to provide a shortlist of 3 managers to present to the rest of the board it would be very difficult but I would put forward the names of Steve Evans, Karl Robinson and…..dare I say it….Neil Warnock.

Steve Evans has done a fantastic job up the road in Toytown and in his previous role with Crawley. Not only has he turned mediocre teams into teams the win promotions and titles (with some cash to spend it has to be said) but he has done so with by playing a brand of football that mixes both entertainment and commitment. When you listen to him you can tell how much each result means to him win, lose or draw which I think would instantly endear him to Bramall Lane faithful. From the outside looking in he would also appear to have the skills to re-energise the players and provide them with the confidence to go out and play in the way they are clearly capable of.

In the summer we were heavily linked with Karl Robinson and at the time I thought he would have been a fantastic appointment. Nothing that has happened so far this season has made me think anything different. MK Dons play a fantastic brand of football and are a joy to watch at times. Last season they didn’t live up to previous campaigns but so far this year they have found another good blend of youth and experience that provides a winning formula. My only reservation with Robinson would be that he has had several attempts at getting MK Dons out of the division and is yet to do so. Would things be any different if he took over from our favourite Scotsman?

None of you need me to tell you why Neil Warnock would be a good appointment for the club and there is no doubt that he would have us in the top 6 of this division come the end of the season. The main problem is that he was drifted into retirement and may be too comfortable sat on his tractor or in the studios of TalkSport to take up another managerial post. I would like to think that the only club that may be able to push him into one final hurrah would be United but I think his frosty relationship with Kevin McCabe may put pay to a return.

Though David Weir will more than likely still be in charge come the weekend, I think it is now inevitable that he will be given his marching orders within the coming days and weeks. All we can hope now is that the right choice of replacement is made and the candidate that is chosen is one of a high calibre and with a vast amount of experience. Has anyone got Danny Wilson’s number?

Written by Ian Parkes, We Are Going Up’s Sheffield United blogger

Ian tweets at @ijparkes

The Right Players in the Wrong System

Monday, September 16th, 2013

CM

With new investment comes new optimism and Blades around the world can be forgiven for getting more excited than we have done since the glory days of the Premier league. The counter balance to this excitement however is the inevitable pressure that has now been heaped on the club, the players and crucially the manager. Ultimately results on the pitch will determine our level of success over the coming season and this is where we are currently coming up short.

When a new manager comes in to any club there has to be a settling in period and an acceptance that immediate results are unlikely. Personally and from speaking to other fans, this was something I was more than willing to accept when David Weir was appointed. Everything about his arrival seemed right when he was announced as our latest manager. A fresh start with a young, hungry manager who is eager to cut his teeth in the managerial world. I now have to be honest and admit that I am starting to wonder if our current poor form is just an adjustment period or a sign that this could be another catastrophic appointment.

The principals that David Weir and his staff are trying to adapt are commendable and the pretty, tippy tappy football he clearly endorses does have its merits. Anyone that has been to watch United over the last 30 years will tell you that we would love to see a manager who plays football with the ball on the ground and not another gaffer who would rather ram the ball into a useless 6ft 5in lump and hope that we can feed off the scraps. However, there has to be a massive change in the way we are using the ball at present.

The idea of playing one striker as a focal point of the attack and playing other forward thinking players around him is not necessarily a bad one but this must not have a detrimental effect on our creativity. The vast majority of teams higher up the league ladder play this way and to great affect but in my opinion there is one massive difference. They always play with width in the team. Now I’m not going to compare the players we have to those in the upper reaches of the Premier League but the principles and team shape can certainly be mirrored.

Teams like Chelsea play one striker through the middle and three flair players in support. No matter whom the three players are in that role, two of them always start from wide and then drift in. Our current shape works in exactly the opposite way with players having to come from narrow positions to try and get on the ball in wide areas. This then affects the whole balance of the side. Another way of playing is the style that is adopted by Aston Villa. Christian Benteke plays the width of the 18 yard box and no more whilst Andy Weimann and Gabby Agbonlahor primarily stay wide but join Benteke whenever an attack is building down the opposite wing.

Both those slight variations of the same formation create oodles of chances and can both be used to great affect by the players at David Weir’s disposal. We have natural width and pace in Jamie Murphy, Callum McFadzean, Fabien Brandy and the returning Shaun Miller so the Aston Villa blueprint would work perfectly given the weapons we possess in our arsenal. In recent games, the few chances we have created have come from wider positions and for example, the introduction of McFadzean at Carlisle provided the few sparks of creativity that we were able to produce. This would then allow one of Jose Baxter or Florent Cuvelier to take up their natural position playing just off the man through the middle. This may place a lot of emphasis on the two holding midfielders to ensure that they don’t stray too far forward, allowing us to become exposed, but as the full backs could now adopt a more defensive approach than at present this would counteract the more advanced wide men in our 11.

At Brunton Park Weir appeared to try and introduce some width to the side by playing Darryl Westlake on the right of a midfield four but this is a huge case of a square peg in a round hole and to me smacks of desperation. Westlake does have a good delivery in him at times and in a similar way to the now departed Matt Lowton, he is an attack minded right back but he is by no means the answer to our problems.

As it stands I can’t help but feel sorry for Lyle Taylor, Chris Porter and Joe Ironside who have all had a crack at filling the ‘number 9’ role this season. All 3 players have their limitations and I agree with the masses that we do need another striker but the service they have received in our games to date (Notts County aside) has been nothing short of appalling. Strikers at any level are only as good as the chances they are given and so far this season I would be surprised if they have had more than 4 or 5 good chances to feed off between them. From the small amount we have seen from Taylor especially, I do genuinely believe he will score goals if he is provided with the right service.

In the squad David Weir has both inherited and built upon there are certainly chances and goals to be found of this I have no doubt, but the shape and structure of the side at present will never coax more than a handful of goals out of this team. The narrow, methodical passing game we play at present is far too negative and doesn’t invite players to try something a bit different or get into positions where they can use their undoubted ability. As a friend of mine correctly tells me on a regular basis, negative football breeds negative results and so far the proof is in the pudding. I think the best example of this negativity would be that with 10 minutes to go of Saturday’s game and with the side trailing 1-0, Carlisle win a corner and David Weir insists that every single player defends the set piece from their own 18 yard box. Not a single player was pushed out to the half way line for the Carlisle defence to mark. Sadly this sums up our current predicament and Weir’s reluctance to remove the shackles and let the players play the way we all know that they can.

Aside from our issues in the oppositions final third, our back four also still concerns me. We constantly gift goals to the opposition and make stupid mistakes that shouldn’t be happening at any level, let alone from professional footballers. The central defensive partnership of Collins and Maguire worries me and has since the first full season they played together in 2011/2012. That year we scored more goals than anyone else in the country and still didn’t get promoted. Make of that what you will! The main issue for me is that for two and a bit seasons now they have had no competition for their shirt. No one knocking on the door and looking to take their starting place from them. Both Maguire and Collins know that no matter how poor they play they won’t be dropped as we have no one to replace them.

Personally I would be as eager to get another centre half or two as I would be to get another striker into the squad but from everything I have read David Weir doesn’t appear to share my views. If the rumoured interest in Harry Maguire is true and the reported £4m fee is also correct, then if I were Kevin McCabe I would be packing up his belongings and driving him to whichever club he wants to go. Maguire is easily replaceable and the funds his sale would create could make a huge difference to strengthening the rest of the squad.

Despite all the doom and gloom I would like to finish on a positive note.  Whilst every player around him has faltered and performed well below their capabilities, George Long has gone from strength to strength. He seems to mature and grow with every game and is fast becoming another in a long line of great goalkeepers we have been fortunate enough to see at the Lane. Whilst the jury is out on whether or not Harry Maguire can go on to play at the highest level, I have no doubt that Long will become a Premier League goalkeeper and I don’t think I am being unrealistic when I say he could also become an England number 1 if he continues to progress at his current rate. Unfortunately he is likely to fulfil his potential away from S2 but I for one would not begrudge him the big move that he certainly deserves. Hopefully we will be able to retain his services for the rest of the current campaign before he inevitably leaves us for pastures new.

Written by Ian Parkes, We Are Going Up’s Sheffield United blogger

Ian tweets at @ijparkes

More Questions Than Answers

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

SUFC

As the title suggests, the mixed bag that has been our opening to the season has certainly raised more questions than answers. It’s not time to hit the panic button as yet by any means but there are certain areas that need addressing, some more urgently than others.

The opening game of the season promised a lot and had us all believing that this could finally be the season where not only do we end this miserable existence in League One, but we could also cruise out of the division in style. We had the best part of 80% of the possession, we were creating chances aplenty and all looked rosey, albeit against a very poor Notts County team with 10 men for over an hour. Since then, our performances and the subsequent results have not been as we all expected. The County game raised all of our expectations and I think a bit of realism is probably necessary from here on in.

I would be the first to admit that when I turned up at the lane for the visit of Burton Albion, I expected free flowing football that would see us run out comfortable winners on the night. Unfortunately, what we have to remember is that not only was this a lesser fixture played in front of a small crowd and with little to no atmosphere, but we still have a team and squad that is very much in its infancy. Firstly we have a lot of young players with limited experience, but most importantly we are very much at the start of David Weir’s tenure and his methods, systems and footballing philosophy are still a blue print rather than being 2nd nature to the players.

The 2 league games since then have yielded just 1 point, when maybe we would have hoped for at least 3 or 4 but losing to Brentford on their own patch is nothing to be embarrassed about and but for a linesman’s flag we may have snatched a victory against Colchester last time out. I appreciate that this is very much a glass half full way of looking at the opening fixtures and I am not trying to paper over the cracks but I think at this stage of the season the last thing we need is negativity. Having said that, a few things need addressing very quickly if we are to sustain a push towards the top 6.

I have read a lot of articles and comments where people have bemoaned our lack of fire power and our ability to put the ball in the back of the net. Though I agree to an extent, I don’t think the strikers are the main issue right now and there are other areas that are in need of more immediate attention. Lyle Taylor has shown in glimpses that once he is use to the physicality and the pace of League One, he could well prove to be a handful at this level. He also seems to possess quite a bit of self-belief which, as a striker is vitally important. Beyond Taylor, we are a little lightweight in the striking department and the return of Shaun Miller can’t come soon enough as his intelligence and movement have been sorely missed since he suffered the anterior cruciate ligament injury that has kept him out since boxing day of last year. Chris Porter can be effective to unsettle defences with his physical presence but I don’t think I am alone in believing that this should be limited to the latter stages of games rather than for a full 90 minutes. His lack of mobility and finishing leave a lot to be desired and unfortunately, he just isn’t good enough.

Aside from our short comings in front of goal, I think our main concern is at the back and more specifically in the full back positions. To be even more specific the left back position as the return from injury of Tony McMahon should mean more solidity at right back. McMahon has his faults, his constant bickering with officials and his mandatory yellow card per game for a needless foul being the main gripes but overall he is generally a dependable figure in the back line

I appreciate the way David Weir wants to utilise his full back in the final 3rd of the pitch but this cannot be to the detriment of the team as a defensive unit. With our recognised wide men tending to play narrow, we do need some width to the team and having full backs capable of playing more as a wing back can certainly work, if you have the right tools at your disposal. Speaking of tools, I am yet to understand why Marcus Williams has started 3 out of 4 games at left back. Though he does possess a bit of pace and doesn’t seem to have a problem with pushing on and getting into the oppositions half, he is sadly lacking when it comes to both distribution and more importantly the ability to defend. The amount of times Williams allows his man to get a ball into our box is frightening and this has been the case throughout his entire career with United. Last season I felt that Matt Hill was as consistent as anyone in our back four and performed a lot better than anyone else in that position. Though Hill won’t be seen bombing up and down the left had side, he is a very competent defender and certainly uses the ball a lot more efficiently than Williams. I therefore find it hard to understand why he is yet to play a single minute of football and I was astounded to see McGinty play at left back against Colchester. Hopefully Hill will get a run over the next few weeks but if not, I don’t see why we shouldn’t look to offload him as he will probably be on a reasonable wage.

The obvious area of concern to most Blades now is replacing the massive void that has been left by the departure of Kevin McDonald. As I mentioned in my previous blog, I am of the opinion that McDonald is the best footballer outside of the top 2 divisions and this opinion hasn’t changed since his departure. As a result of this untimely kick in the swingers, we now need to find a player that possess at least some of the attributes that McDonalds was blessed with. Within the current squad we have a number of players who have a lot of ability but I don’t believe we have any that will fit into the role vacated by KMac.  Connor Coady clearly has a lot of potential and is incredibly comfortable on the ball, you can see why he is so highly regarded at Liverpool and he is a lot more competent than a lot of our previous loanees from big clubs (Jon Cofie, Jon Newby and Michael Twiss to name a few) but at this stage of his career he would appear to be more suited to the box to box role and will more than likely be direct competition for Stephen McGinn. Callum McFadzean is quick and direct and has the ability to beat a man but similarly to Coady doesn’t yet have maturity to link midfield and attack and he shouldn’t be burdened with that responsibility. He would be much better utilised as a wide player and I am sure he will keep Jamie Murphy on his toes should he continue to drift in and out of games. Personally, I think we have to recruit someone for this position if we are going to make this system and shape a success. This role as a ‘number 10’ is more integral to our dynamic than any other position and we have to pick the right player. I could sit here and list numerous players that have been mentioned on forums and on various social media sites but what we have to remember is that whatever the fee was that we received for McDonald, it is very unlikely that we will be reinvesting the full amount and we certainly won’t be replicating the big Scot’s wages. I think the likes of Luke Freeman or Max Clayton would certainly be ideal replacements but unfortunately I can’t see us shelling out the fee’s that they would command and they may even be holding out for a more lucrative transfer, especially the much sort after Clayton.

Whilst I may seem to have picked apart certain areas of the team, there have also been positives to be taken from the opening weeks of the season. Febian Brandy looks to have settled in quickly and has been a fantastic acquisition and I think he will prove to be the difference in a lot of games this season. George Long has started the season in fantastic form and looks to have grown in confidence and stature over the summer and the teams insistence on retaining possession rather than the ‘hit and hope’ style we have become accustomed to is a breath of fresh air.

I still feel that with a lot of patience from fans, players and the press that David Weir’s methods will start to take shape and the team will grow and grow as the weeks and months pass. The next few weeks may yield more disappointment than adulation but I think by the time we are into October and the real thick of the season, we will be starting to reap the rewards of playing the game the right way.

Written by Ian Parkes, We Are Going Up’s Sheffield United blogger

Ian tweets at @ijparkes

A New Era and Renewed Hope

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

DW

At 7:45pm on Friday 2nd August, yet another new era will begin at Bramall Lane. Since the departure of Neil Warnock, this isn’t an alien concept to us Blades and it is something we have become all become accustomed to.

The 5 incumbents of the managerial hot seat since our relegation from the promised land of the Premier League have been of mixed calibre and have provided mixed success. The highs of the play off finals followed by the lows of the inevitable defeats mixed in with the crushing relegation to League One. In Bryan Robson and Micky Adams we had two managers who failed to muster up more than a whimper from the team at their disposal. Kevin Blackwell, in hindsight, probably made a good fist of it and was perhaps unlucky to lose his job after only a couple of games of the 2010-2011 season.  The reign of Gary Speed was short lived and did not live up to its billing but we will never know whether his philosophies would have provided results in the long term. Our most recent permanent gaffer Danny Wilson came very, very close to making it back to the Championship and without the incarceration of Ched Evans and injuries to several key players, we may well be a Championship club right now.

At the start of all the previous managers’ reigns, there has always been a level of optimism and expectation. In some cases this may have been misguided. As David Weirs reign is about to start, I can’t help but feel a genuine sense of optimism that surpasses that of the previous appointments. From all the reports you read, Weir is an incredibly well thought of man and more importantly a very well respected coach within the game. You only have to read the glowing references given to him by Sir Alex Ferguson and David Moyes. If David Weir gets anywhere near to the careers the aforementioned managers have had, he will have done incredibly well.

One thing that is very appealing about Weir, in the same way as Gary Speed, is that the man has an aura about him and commands the full attention of anyone who is listening to him speak. I can only think that this must be the same when he is speaking to the United squad. Any man who has played at the level he has and done so until he was into his 40’s has a reputation that precedes him.

A key factor in my optimism is the new formation Weir has decided to utilise in pre season and he will presumably carry into the new League One season. The fluid 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation is used at the highest of levels and is the preferred formation of the likes of Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho. You would therefore like to think there is a lot to be said for this modern and fluid looking way to play. This formation could and should bring out the best in some of our key players, which should in turn lead to a brand of football that is not only effective but also pleasing on the eye. The key players I refer to are Jamie Murphy, Fabien Brandy and most importantly of all, Kevin McDonald.

Murphy and Brandy have pace to burn and have that unpredictability that we have lacked for a number of years. Murphy arrived in January and seemed to be bogged down a bit by the weight of expectation that was resting on his shoulders. He did however show enough flashes of pace and penetration to make me think he has what it takes to be a big player for us. I think the change of formation and change of manager will bring the best out of him this season. Febian Brandy is something of an unknown quantity to most of us but if he can recreate performances like the one he served up against United at the Banks Stadium last season, we have got ourselves a hell of a player and a fantastic free transfer. He is exactly the player United have missed over the last few seasons. Callum McFadzean can maybe think himself a little hard done to if he is, as expected, sat on the bench  against County but he will have a big part to play this season and I can’t help but think his time will come. The same can’t be said about Ryan Flynn who in my opinion is yet to show anything to make me think he offers anything more to the team than a big heart a willingness to work. Every team needs players that will work for the team, but I am willing to sacrifice this in the case of attack minded wingers who can win you a game.

I have to hold my hands up and say that I am Kevin McDonald’s biggest fan and I think he is comfortably the most talented footballer in the league on his day, he just maybe goes missing a bit too often in some games. This new position that has been created for him just behind a main striker could be a match made in heaven. This position should allow McDonald to get onto the ball in areas where is sublime range of passing can make a difference and can affect play in the final 3rd of the pitch. Not only will it allow him to orchestrate our midfield, it should also lead to him getting on the scores sheet more regularly which is probably the main criticism of him given the way he can strike a ball. 1 goal all season last season is not the goal return we know he is capable of.

Along with Brandy, we have also signed 5 other players who appear to fit the new ethos of the club in that they are young, talented and hungry to play football. For the 1st time in a long time, I can happily say that I am pleased with the business David Weir has conducted so far in pre season. I am fully expecting McGinn and Taylor to start the 1st game of the season and probably feature in the vast majority of our games and both will be key to our promotion challenge. Taylor in particular could be an excellent piece of business if he can get anywhere near to filling the huge goal scoring void that was left by Ched Evans. I’m not sure how much we are likely to see of Johns and McGinty but if they fulfil their potential they could be big players for us in the years to come.

The signing of Connor Coady is probably our biggest coup to date and could be an inspired short term signing. Having listened to Danny Higgingbotham (who will make an excellent pundit or potentially a coach) and Matt Hill on TalkSport a few nights ago, Coady is a player with a huge future in front of him. They both described him as a special player with buckets of ability. If this ability can be transferred onto the pitch then this can only benefit us, the player and ultimately parent club Liverpool. Hopefully he will be able to make a big impact in his short pace of time at The Lane.

My only concern at this point in time is that we yet again let our expectations get the better of us. We all need to make sure there’s no panic and pessimism if Weir’s tactics and footballing beliefs don’t yield immediate success. The players may need time to adapt and we as fans need to recognise this and embrace what the manager, the players and the club are trying to do. Oh and my only other slight concern is that Marcus Williams has played a worrying amount of pre season games…….

All in all, I am have been very pleased with how our pre-season has panned out and I hope we can carry this into the new season. On the other hand, this is Sheffield United we are talking about and life is never that simple.

Written by Ian Parkes, We Are Going Up’s Sheffield United blogger

Ian tweets at @ijparkes

 

A new kind of play-off woe

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

When Sheffield United finished the season with 90 points in 3rd place, we tied the unfortunate record of the total number of points in the Football League without automatic promotion. The other holder of that honour is Sunderland, who cruely missed out on promotion on penalties in the playoff final of playoff finals – the 4-4 thriller with Charlton.

If you remove completely the thrilling spectacle angle (and I mean completely), United in the League One final was much the same as Sunderland. So near, and yet so far.

It was a strange experience on the day. I’d read a number of accounts of fans before the game about nerves, but this is the first playoff final where ahead of the game I was fairly relaxed. United have an appalling record in playoff finals. Of the three I’ve been to before this season, I’ve seen three losses – in 1997, 2003, and 2009, with a place in the Premier League on the line in each. I felt well prepared for playoff misery. I hadn’t even seen us hit the back of the net once in any of the finals.

And so, with a place in the Championship up for grabs and off the back of three failures, you can forgive me for not getting excited by another potential failure in the run-up to the game.

The game itself was pretty dreadful for the first 80 minutes – barely a chance created by either team – with a flurry of late activity, with two teams clearly desperate not to suffer another 30 mins in the baking sun. Steve Simonsen pulled off three excellent stops, and Nick Montgomery denied the prolific Rhodes a winning goal with an last gasp goal-line clearance.

Extra time, and the switch to 4-4-2 by Danny Wilson opened up the game at both ends a little, but by the end of it 0-0 was probably the result the cagey performances by both teams deserved.

Penalties are always the proverbial footballing lottery. Sepp Blatter’s recently launched an inquiry into an alternative (though the footballing world would probably prefer an inquiry to find an alternative to Sepp Blatter). A game has to be decided somehow. In the end the game turned on which goalkeeper was able to take a decent penalty – as much a toss of a coin as you can get in football surely.

With the first three penalties missed you wondered whether anyone would score one. In Williamson’s case you even had Smithies tip round an effort thatwhat’d been drifting – just to make extra-specially sure it was missed. Up until Neill Collins ran up to strike the ball, United still hadn’t hit the back of the net in a playoff final before.

With Collins scoring, and Simonsen saving the third Terriers pen from ever-horrible Alan Lee, this was a great chance to win it. Score two of the remaining three penalties and United were up. For the first time in the afternoon, I actually started to believe that this might be the day we win a playoff final – you could almost taste it.

It was not to be. Matty Lowton has had an excellent season, and many inclusing myself would have been happy to see him take a penalty. Sadly, his effort was saved. Then came reserve left-back Andy Taylor, brought on late-on specifically to take a penalty – a surprise to lots of us who were totally unaware of any penalty-taking prowess. And with good reason too. The moment the ball crashed against the post was the moment all the hope I had seconds before vanished.

We then followed that with a back and forth of pressure penalties, where individuals you wouldn’t expect to be any good showed surprising ability – and where any miss would have ended the game. Porter for the fifth and Matty Hill’s top corner effort at 7-7 in particular stood out as being pretty ballsy penalties.

With Smithies scoring the eleventh Terriers pen for 8-7, the task fell to Simonsen, having already saved two of the initial pens. The resultant miss by Simonsen is particularly harsh for him, and I can’t imagine after possibly his best performance in a United shirt that many fans will be putting defeat down to how the eleventh choice penalty-taker dealt with his penalty. A final in the baking sunshine at Wembley, decided by the final kick of what was a drab game – it was like 1997 and Crystal Palace all over again.

So, another playoff cruelty – in an exciting new way! We’ve had the last minute Hopkin goal. We’ve had the three-down-by-half-time final. We’ve also had the final-where-we-got-two-red-cards final. Now we have the final decided by a shoot out involving every player finishing the game.

90 points, 92 goals. No promotion. It’s a cruel way to end the season. Off the back of an abysmal year before, Danny Wilson has done a fantastic job in lifting the players he inherited, getting the likes of Neill Collins and Michael Doyle to be essential players in the team when most fans would have been happy for him to ship them elsewhere. The level of football played has been the best for many years. We’ve had all manner of set backs. And Danny now has to lift us again.

There will almost certainly be a big clearout in the coming months. Various players have expiring contracts. These include:

- Steve Simonsen (excellent in the final, shaky at other times)
- Lee Williamson (excellent in the season, less so in the final)
- Kevin McDonald (key to the midfield in the season, ideal for the Wembley pitch, sadly injured ahead of the final)
- Ched Evans (excellent in the season, in jail for the foreseeable future), and
- James Beattie (dreadful in the season, and who will be missing the first game of next season through suspension were he through some miracle to be fit anyway)

Couple that with the likely bids that will be coming in for young stars Matty Lowton and Harry Maguire this summer, which we’ll probably accept, and it’s looking in some ways to be a bigger rebuild job than this time last year for Danny in getting a decent squad together to push for promotion.

Still, despite everything I’m actually feeling far less despondent that I would have thought I’d be. It’s a sad end to what has been an otherwise really enjoyable year in League One. Let’s regroup, and get that automatic place next year.

Written by Joe Clift, We Are Going Up’s Sheffield United blogger

Joe tweets at @josephclift, and also blogs at One Foot In The Game (@1FITG)

The Blades Way

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

If, at the start of the season, Sheffield United fans were told that the Blades would be just one point away from second with one game remaining the majority would never have believed it. This isn’t because of blind optimism leading fans to expect to have already sealed promotion, but instead because of the time we thought was needed to change our fortunes around.

With relegation so unexpected at the start of last season many Unitedites were anticipating a big clear out to help reduce the oversized wage-bill. For this reason, as well as having to find a new manager, 99% of supporters would be thrilled to make the play-offs back in August. However, after 45 league games and being securely in second place since February 14th, being shifted into the play-offs after the penultimate game certainly is painful, particularly when you see who has displaced the Blades.

At the end of May last year, Sheffield United made what was the first contentious managerial decision to happen at several clubs this season by appointing ex-Sheffield Wednesday player and manager, Danny Wilson. The protests to his appointment were partly to do with his past connections but also his lack of success in recent years. This record, accompanied by names such as Roberto Di Matteo on the shortlist, was enough alone to outrage many Blades. Wilson was only one man’s first choice but, thankfully, very few Blades could argue with the selection now with his name being sung from the terraces.

The season started brightly with goals coming thick and fast from all areas of the team, all before top goal scorer Ched Evans had even kicked his first ball of the season. From mid-September, the rocky spell arrived with dropped points against Huddersfield, Charlton, Sheffield Wednesday, Wycombe and more. The run left United in fifth place after defeat to Stevenage in early November. This, however, wasn’t a disappointment as this was where most fans were expecting to be at the start of the season.

The worst part of the rough period was the performances. The players began the season playing with a composed, passing style that worked to break down teams by turning possession into goals. In their down turn of form the side reverted back to their old ways and tried to be more direct, cutting out the midfield which had helped to win so many games.

To be truthful, the Blades got by thanks to some excellent work in the loan market by Danny Wilson to bring in Matty Phillips and Billy Clarke on month-long loans from Blackpool. It wasn’t long after the duo returned to their parent club when Evans began to hit form. Thirteen goals from the forward in little over two months from November to January saw the Blades soar into the FA Cup fourth round and back up to second in the table.

February continued in much the same fashion and staying in second place with a five point cushion and optimism was rich in S2. One of the most important factors in the rise was the lack of attention being paid to the club and its unvarying form. The sackings of Gary Megson and Lee Clark, the consistency of Charlton at the top of the league and Jordan Rhodes continuing to top the country’s goal scoring charts shadowed the progress the club were making. This, accompanied with a very stable squad, built up the confidence to grind out wins and keep Wilson’s men out of the headlines.

March arrived in the worst possible way with a home game against Oldham, where United finished the game with no defenders on the pitch due to family problems, injuries and two red cards. It was a strange game and, despite being 2-0 up and cruising at half time, an injury time penalty saw an emphatic turnaround for the away side. This game seems to sum up our season, especially after the latest slip up. It feels as though only Sheffield United could be so in control before moments of madness, a lack of luck or factors outside of the club’s hands that could destroy thousands of dreams.

Other than a defeat to Walsall, which followed the Oldham game and saw a makeshift defence containing two loanees signed that day, the rest of the month played out as if that game had never happened as the Blades became the highest league goal scorers in the top four English leagues. United were sitting pretty, just above Sheffield Wednesday, to the continued delight of the red and white side of the city.

Even though the Blades had occupied second spot for some time now, almost every supporter could sense danger ahead as has become expected from our past. Rival jeers came flooding in, as would only be suspected, citing Ched Evans’ continued run of fine form to have led the club to become a ‘one man team.’ This, again, didn’t unhinge the progress and it appeared nothing could stop the return to the Championship.

With just four games of the season remaining, Evans was in court accused of raping a teenager the previous summer. Questions were asked as to whether the striker would play on the Saturday midway through the trial, which Danny Wilson responded to by saying he would play if he was fit. At that time Evans was still innocent until proven guilty and in his final game against Leyton Orient, he scored his 35th goal of the campaign. The celebration was unusual for Ched as he tore away, pulling off his shirt rather than his usual jog to the corner and triumphant knee-slide. My first impressions were that he was overwhelmed by his achievement as there is no hiding his record this term, however, in hindsight; it appeared to be as much of a goodbye to the fans as anything else.

On the following Friday afternoon, Evans was charged with rape and sentenced to five years in prison. I, like many others, have questions about the case but a unanimous decision by the jury is the only thing that is a known certainty and that is what must be respected. A day later, a strike force of Will Hoskins and Chris Porter were the chosen partnership to replace Evans and the injured Richard Cresswell at MK Dons.

The performance was lacklustre and many not at the game wondered if this just demonstrated how much United missed Evans. Personally, I think it was the effort and commitment of Cresswell that was most missed and the morale in the camp must have been at a real low. Any manager would have had a job raising his players after such news.

Despite the defeat and a last minute winner in the game at Hillsborough, United were still on top; until Saturday night. Whether it was the media attention following the Ched Evans verdict or the fact the game was to be shown on Sky, it took until the introduction of Cresswell and Flynn before we began to see a side that resembled Sheffield United this season. The goals conceded had an element of luck about them, but they were also the result of poor defending. The result left Blades fans deflated and almost certainly left to find their fate in the play-offs.

After a few days of mulling over the season, Saturday afternoon could be lining up to be the best day in years for Blades fans. It’s true that things are never easily achieved, especially at Bramall Lane, but with all expectations diminished, United fans could still have the last laugh. And even if they don’t succeed in gaining automatic promotion, there is the back-up possibility of the play-offs, but no one wants that, do they?

Written by Eddie Chapman, We Are Going Up’s Sheffield United blogger

Eddie tweets at @eddiechap