Manager: Danny Wilson
I have to be honest and admit I did not want him as our manager. He had failed at clubs in the lower divisions and his halcyon days as manager at Barnsley as he took them to the top flight, seemed a long time ago. I did not care about his Wednesday links (if we had appointed Paul Jewell I would not have minded – as an example) more about his poor record in recent times. However, he spoke well when he came in and showed a refreshing honesty. He was assuming and was dignified in everything he did. From the off it was clear he wanted the ball being played on the floor and the football whilst patient was good to watch. We seemed to want to build from the back and even the defenders played it out. He encouraged likes of Maguire and Lowton to bring it out of defence and wanted likes of Quinn, McDonald and Williamson to get on the ball. We created lots of chances and he suddenly got the best out of players who had been written off only a year ago; such as Doyle, Collins and Evans. We scored goals freely and attacked, even away from home.
For us to score 4’s and 5’s routinely was great to see. We always were able to keep the ball down and try and make the extra pass. At times we maybe took too many touches or were too patient building up! He got the crowd on his side gradually and was able to get a settled side (mostly settled defence) that was organised, committed and always gave everything. There were few games you came away and thought the effort was lacking and if we lost it was usually down to an individual mistake or sloppy set play rather than an awful performance. Indeed there were no games I can recall where we were completely outplayed. We went on long winning runs and seemed to gain momentum as the season went on and other than Oldham/Walsall game from early December to late April the form and results were very consistent. The biggest compliment I can pay him is that I enjoyed the season for the most part and I have not said that for quite a few years. Sure we played some rubbish sides but you can only beat what is in front of you and for the most part we did that well.
In terms of the negatives; you could argue we never really did it against the better sides. Yes, we smashed goals past struggles and beat the sides like Bury, Rochdale etc but when it mattered we seemed to not quite do it. You could also say he/we bottled it at the end with the 3 results at the end of the season when we seemingly had it in our clutch. He was praised for getting us right to the brink but could not see us over the edge (albeit in difficult circumstances after the Evans court case).
I do feel he never really addressed the complete lack of pace in the side. We were crying out for more speed and a chance to get at teams out wide but after Phillips went back we looked very one paced. I suppose it worked with all the goals/wins but we just needed that extra zip in the last third and we never really had it. The last 3 games with the one paced strikers we had left was painful to watch and whilst many say Wilson had no choice, he ought to have addressed it a while ago as they knew that the course case was looming. Maybe if Hoskins or O’Halloran had paid off it would not have been an issue but they did not pay off.
Also I do feel his signings were on the whole not the best. He got in McDonald and also Phillips/Clarke on loan and they all did well with McDonald being a key man. Francois and Flynn were ok without being spectacular but others did not work. Porter, Beattie, Williams, O’Halloran, Mendez Laing, Hoskins all never really paid off and in the forward positions he never really gave Evans support he needed which showed when he was unavailable. I suppose Beattie and Hoskins on the face of it seemed decent signings but they did not work. He never properly sorted the keeping situation out as we muddled along with Simonsen in goal and we also never properly sorted the left back position out with Francois’ injury being a big factor.
Overall though he did a very good job. He handled himself well and was very calm and assured. He got us playing a nice style of football and but for one kick here or there we would have gone up. On last season alone you have to say his appointment has been a good one despite us not going up. Many tabbed us for mid-season at the start of the campaign and even though we held onto more players than we thought I still don’t think many would have thought we would get 90 points.
Simonsen did so well on loan a few years ago but had a really bad season last year and this year was not much better. He had spells of good games and actually finished the season really well. It was not his fault we lost the final as he gave a good performance and was down to one kick. A n awful kick but it should never have got to him. I actually felt sorry for him as he seems a really nice guy and honest about everything. However, I then look back at think of the bad things this season and of that there are many.
He is not bad positionally on shots and a fairly decent shot stopper but his decision making is awful. He does not command his box and won’t come for balls either through balls or crosses. He also routinely makes stupid mistakes. The thing that annoyed me most is that he would not commicate with his defenders at all and this caused major problems all season.
A quick look at games this season and you see how many goals he has cost us:
That is 12/13 goals I am afraid. Pretty damning evidence. That is not including the ones that did not cost us goals.
He has had some decent games and did make some good saves but for a team near the top that is a lot of mistakes. As I say he was a nice guy and seemed as genuine as a footballer can be but with a better keeper this year we would have gone up. He was on a decent wage too I am sure and thus his release was an obvious decision and was completely correct. I am sure he will find another club at this level or in league two but he will probably always be remembered for some of the above mistakes and ultimately for his missed penalty kick at Wembley.
Long was seen as a real prospect and looked decent against Man Utd in the Youth Cup. Tall, athletic and quite commanding for one so young; he seemed to be ready to press for the first team and had made his debut at Swansea the previous season. He got his chance after Simonsen’s errors and did well against MK Dons but the following week he had a nightmare against Exeter and contributed to 2 or 3 of the 4 goals. His confidence was completely shot and rightly he was taken out of the limelight. He needed to be put out on loan but that ever happened as teams also probably did not want a young keeper learning his trade between their sticks! He ended back up in the Academy team and was not even in the reserves by season end with Howard coming it to be number two. It has been a backward step for Long this season as he went from being linked with Premiership teams to being back playing in front of a few fans at windy Shirecliffe. Next season is a big season as he will have to make inroads into the first team here or get out on loan. He cannot just be in the reserves/youth team for another season.
I must admit that I don’t know much about Howard. Apparently he is highly rated and seen as someone who could be our number one but I must admit it concerns me that at 25 we are his eight club. He has left clubs quite quickly and never ever made himself a legitimate number one even losing his place at backwaters like St Mirren and Aberdeen. Maybe we have seen something others have not but I have my reservations based on his history.
Mark Howard 1 year (2014)
George Long 4 years(2016)
It seems unless something happens to allow us to get another experienced keeper for a season long loan or ones is suddenly released; we will go into the season with Howard and Long. Howard will probably get the first chance at the number one. I don’t think United necessarily see that Howard is much better than Simonsen and I think if it was not for finances then Simonsen would have been kept and we would bumbled along for another season. I hope Howard gets off to a good start and can command his box/take crosses. I don’t expect him to make stunning saves but do the basics and control his area/defence.
Collins was a bit of a wreck the previous season and looked one of the worst defenders we had seen down at the Lane, making mistakes and looking weak and slow. I was not exactly enamoured that he would be returning as one of our main defenders this season. However, Collins began the season well and looked a different player. Forming a solid partnership with young Maguire, he was solid from day one. He cut out the mistakes; he led well from the back and was commanding. He also showed what a decent footballer he was and was much better on the floor than I ever possibly thought. He brought it out from defence and tried to play it to feet whenever he could. He was one of the constants all season and with a fairly settled defence compared to last season; he showed a completely different side to him and now is probably one of the key men moving forward. You could say there are doubts whether he could carry on such improved performances at a higher level and against better forwards as he has struggled and been dumped by teams when he has played higher. However, next season he will be one of the first names on the team sheet and maybe deserves an additional contract extension for his good performances this season.
Maguire had stood out when he got in the team at the end of the previous season. He clearly lacked pace ad mobility but he had qualities that you rarely see in a youngster. He continued this as he began this season by contributing along with Collins to some solid defensive displays. He would stand out too scouts watching him as he was full of confidence, could read the game and was basically a very good footballer. He always looked to keep the ball, coming out of defence and had a nice first touch. He showed good strength and tackling and despite the lack of speed his ability to get in the right positions was uncanny. He did have some bad spells but the fact that he played so many games; 44 in the league; was superb really for someone who was only 18/19. For the most part he was very good and had many more good games than bad ones. I did feel he maybe should have bee rested at times when he had a few sticky spells but with little options in terms of replacements he remained in the team. He did have a few games where he got bullied a bit (Huddersfield at home) but got better in such situation and the way he handled Agyemang in the semi and then the prolific Rhodes in the final was excellent. If he had any kind of pace then they would be queuing up around the block to sign him and he still seems to be carrying a bit too much timber but he clearly has the ability to at least play Championship and with the right improvements than maybe even the top flight. For now he would be better staying with us rather than moving to a side where he may not be a regular (even in the Championship).
Lowton was another youngster who had done well the back end of the previous campaign scoring a few goals and getting more confident every game he played. He had been moved around positions quite a bit and perhaps the question coming into the season was where would he play and would he pin down ‘one’ position. He started the season right back and made this spot his own. He showed his very good technical ability as he always looked to get the ball down and play. He got forward very well and continued his scoring run with a few excellent finishes as he often was the furthest man forward. He also showed his ability in the air and was a threat from set plays/corners. His raids down the right side as he teamed mostly with Lee Williamson was one of our chief threats as the season began. He always wanted to get on the ball and make things happen. He is not lightning fast nor amazingly tricky but he had a knack of getting past his men and overlapping or coming inside and his crossing for the most part was very good as evidence right at the end of the season when he made goal v Stevenage that put us through to the final. He also scores goals and got 6 for the season which is very good for a full back.
He did have some poor games and a few spells of so-so games and the stupid ill discipline versus Oldham cost us dear. Unfortunately he was involved in another moment that directly cost us promotion when he missed the kick in the shoot out that would have had us on the edge of victory. His defensive work still has to improve massively as against teams who have out and out wingers who attack; he gives them too much space and often gets in poor positions. He needs to concentrate on the basics and stop his man/the cross more. His skill on the ball and drive going the other way will always attract interest from higher clubs. If he gets the other aspect right then he will of course go onto better things than United. At the moment he still needs to improve and like Maguire I hope he stays rather than going to a middling Championship side where he again may be in and out of the team and thus lead to him regressing.
Jean Francois Lescinel
He had a decent game in the opening match at Oldham showing pace and athleticism. He was also quite tall and decent to cover in the air. He did have a few moments in future games that could only be described as ‘Nosworthy-esque’ and his overplay sometimes got us into problems. He had some very good games but then some absolute shockers too and was very inconsistent but then got back into the side just before Xmas and stayed there making the spot his own despite the competition from Marcus Williams. He had started to really show some consistency and recall a few goal saving tackles/blocks (Bury away stood out) but then he got a pretty bad injury against Oldham and we never saw him again. We missed his pace, covering and height. Whilst he was not totally convincing we saw that when we plugged in Williams, Hill, Taylor etc, Francois was easily the best of a poor bunch and we lamented his absence. Hopefully he can come back soon and show some consistency when he does return not miss too much of next season but heard he could be out for up to a year when he did it so we may not see him until Xmas.
Taylor has not really been that successful in the previous two campaigns and indeed missed the final stages of the relegation campaign due to injury. He did not return until March and actually had a decent game versus Oldham and was at no fault for the chuck away defeat. He then was oddly taken out of the side after maybe his best game for the club and only played the odd few games/substitute appearances before returning for the home game against Stevenage when he looked poor. Taylor was often defended by many saying he was not that bad but I disagreed. He is weak in the tackle, gets in awful positions, is quite slow and offers nothing from an attacking sense. He runs in an odd manner and does not look like an athlete at all. His United career was summed up when strangely he was brought on to take a penalty in the final which of course he missed. His contribution as a United player in three seasons was very limited and he will no doubt now return to even lower down the divisions.
Ertl was brought in as a utility man that could play centre back, right back and also in central midfield and had been a mixed bag the previous campaign. He did not exactly convince in any of the positions and was in and out of the side. He began this season on the treatment table and did not really return until after Xmas when he had the odd game here and there but he had a few shockers at right back and a few anonymous games in midfield (Scunthorpe I think where he missed a sitter?) . He then spent the closing stages of the game as a substitute or did not even make the bench which said it all. Another who seemed an affable kind of chap but simply not good enough lacking pace, technique, mobility and touch. He will probably return to Europe and I know he was linked with a few German clubs last season.
Williams was drafted in as cover for Francois whose bookings and minor injuries has started to mount up. Williams began well on loan with a few promising games but quickly his form dipped and he made some poor defensive mistakes, got in bad positions and lacked the ability to control or pass the football consistently. He did get forward more than Francois but even these adventures forward were a bit mixed in their success. I am unsure why he was signed on a permanent basis as even Wilson did not seem totally convinced by him. He lost his place as quickly as he had gained it as Francois came back in. He then got an injury and even when he recovered he completely disappeared from the first team squad for the run in as Hill came in. Next season he has a chance become the starting left back with Francois out but unsure if we see him as the future in this position.
He had always looked a fairly steady player when I had seen him at Bristol City, Preston and Wolves but had seemingly lost his way as he was in the reserves at Blackpool. He seemed a decent loan signing on the face of it, especially needed after the Oldham debacle. However after poor start at Walsall and then being partly at fault for another goal at Colchester, he was mostly appalling in the games I saw. He made mistakes, looked clumsy on the ball and seemed to have his boots on the wrong way round at times. He really did look a poor player and even had some fans crying out for Taylor. He was that bad. Still fair play to him he did well in the two games against Stevenage and actually gave a solid display in the final and hit the best kick of the whole shoot out. He actually ended up playing 12 games. I never felt we would sign him, even if we had gone up and with Blackpool also releasing him; he has to find a new club. He probably is a lower division player now and we may well come up against him somewhere next year.
He played one game against Walsall; a game I did not see but evidently after a decent first half he was culpable in the second half as we threw three goals away. He then had a few sub appearances but never was seen again and I assume he went back even before the end of the season?
Brown was seen as a promising youngster a few years ago but seemed to get a bad injury and lost his way. He never quite got back to the promise he had shown and was not even getting in the reserves by season end. He will probably be best known now for his ill-advised comments after the Evans court case which led to him rightly being suspended by the club; this suspension maybe ran right until his contract ran out?
Kennedy was seen as a real talent and came on at Swansea in the final game of the previous campaign but he got quite a few bad injuries and has barely played this season. He has to get fit and push on this season making himself a regular in the reserves early on and showing he can play first team football. His partner from that successful youth cup run, Maguire, has really done well and he must at least capitalise on some of his own promise this year and get some games maybe out on loan in non-league. I did think he was out of contract but maybe I was wrong or they have offered him a rolling contract?
Warren came in from Australia but never threatened the first team in his couple of years at the club and it was no surprise he moved on.
Connelly was seen as a promising prospect when he came in from Irish youth football but he never progressed. He ended up at Alfreton on loan at the end of the season and may have to go into non-league to make a living in the game.
Parrino was a player I never thought was good enough as he simply could not defend and got routinely skinned by his winger or could not stop crosses. I could not understand why we brought him back this season and it seemed this was not a Wilson signing? Parrino came in against Bradford in the JP Trophy and his performance was embarrassingly bad. He was taken off eventually after an unheard of winger had given him a torrid time. He was released not long after thankfully saving some funds after we had squandered too much already on a player out of his depth.
If we keep Maguire and Lowton and Francois gets fit we have a solid back four and maybe as good as you will get at this level. The two youngsters are improving all the time and with Collins really improving and showing consistency we have a mostly settled and solid back line. They had their moments and made mistakes/had poor games as individuals and as a collective but those 3 for the most part had good seasons. Left back it seems the man who would get the start (Francois) is not going to be back until well into the season which means we may have to sign a left back as Wilson does not seem to trust Williams, which is odd as he signed him! Maybe Williams will be given another chance to start there but it is the weakest position going into the season if they all stay.
Of course if we lose Maguire and Lowton then we have problems and need to sign maybe 2/3 brand new defenders and that is without backups as we do not have any. The cover we currently have is non-existent with Morgan/Kennedy both at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of experience/careers. Morgan seems no closer to first team action and I believe an announcement on his future (or lack of it as a player) will be on the way soon. He has been out for 18 months now and I cannot see he is ever going to come back.
In an ideal world we keep Maguire/Lowton, sign a new left back and maybe a centre back for cover but I feel we may lose at least one, maybe both of the aforementioned players. Then we are in trouble and will have to really rely on scouting network to completely rebuild the defence.
Montgomery’s season was one that never really got going. He was rumoured to be leaving at the end of last season but he ended up staying and started the season as skipper with Chris Morgan out. He began the campaign by playing alongside Michael Doyle at Oldham. It was clear that these two did not work really well together and eventually despite a screamer of a goal at Tranmere, Monty was the one that was taken out as Wilson preferred McDonald and Doyle. When he did play his performances were patchy with the same tackling, tenacity and coverage of ground but the same limited passing, touch and ball retention. Doyle could do the former qualities just as well and the latter negatives, such as the passing, seemed to get worse. Monty picked up quite a few injuries and was never really a regular for the second part of the season. He then was allowed out on loan to Millwall but this ended before it started really as he picked up an injury.
He came back but the arrangements of the loan meant he was not available until the playoffs; he then came on against Stevenage in the semi-final second leg and did alright but when McDonald was out for the playoff final he started against Huddersfield. I have to say this performance was absolutely wretched as he rarely touched the ball and when he did he tossed it away.
I think the time is now right for a parting of the ways. He has been a brilliant servant and has shown a real commitment to this football club but in some ways he actually seems to be getting worse, the older he gets. I am concerned whether any Championship clubs will come for him though as if our friend Neil would have wanted him, he could have taken him by now. I doubt we will get any money for him and should allow him and his agent to negotiate a move. If McDonald/Williamson stay, then he is going to be a sub at best again next year as Doyle has performed well in his position.
Quinn’s season began superbly as he was the main man in the opening weeks as he drifted around from the left wing position he often started games into other areas. He came deep and picked up the ball, went in the middle and got into the last third. He made a number of goals and scored a few and really did look a class act in this division with other rival managers lauding him after his impressive performances. I felt that his form dipped around Xmas time and he the rally tailed off and began to become less influential. He started to run out of gas too early in games and also stayed predominantly wide left and was less influential. He had a few shocking games and the crowd started to get on his back a bit. He even was dropped for a few games as we moved into the final stretches of the season (Scunthorpe and also Exeter).
Despite the drop off in form he still set up his fair share of goals and put in some dangerous crosses. Ironically though his play not hitting the heights of earlier in the season probably contributed to him staying at the club as no one came in for him at the transfer window at the end of January. Quinn did have a big resurgence for the playoffs and I thought he was brilliant in both play off games, especially the second leg and then excelled again at Wembley. I had been one of his biggest critics as his form had been so up and down for someone with undoubted ability (touch, passing, ability to get up and down and could score goals) but he came good at the end. No fault could be given to him for our failure to go up. If 3 or 4 more had played like him at Wembley we would have been up. It will be an interesting summer as I have no doubt his performances at the end of the season will see some Championship clubs interested. I think he may want to go as another season at this level would be a waste of a year for him from a career point of view and would hinder his development. If he does go then we cannot begrudge this but from a selfish point of view it would be good if we did hold onto him another season as despite his critics he would still be key in any kind of promotion push.
Doyle’s performances at the back end of the previous campaign when he arrived from Coventry had been similar to those of Neil Collins. He had been really poor and looked a total waste of resources/wages. He seemed like Monty only worse. Of course he had another 2 years left on his contract which did not exactly fill me with glee. It seemed we already had the same sort of player with the same few qualities and same boatload of weaknesses. However, Doyle began the season fairly well and actually showed attributes I did not think he had. He was a tough tackler and a nasty little so and so (in a good way – although at times I would not have been pleased with some of his theatrics which did contribute to players getting sent off). He also was a better passer than Montgomery and was able to keep the ball with simple but effective passes. He formed a good partnership with Kevin McDonald as they seemed to compliment each others styles really well.
He became a mainstay in the side and with Monty/Morgan out also was appointed team captain and seemed to do a decent job leading the side and spoke well in the press. He ended up playing 43 games and was virtually an ever present. He was nothing flash and at times you could see his limitations, but like Collins his performances at this level were chalk and cheese compared to the previous campaign. I cannot recall that many bad games he had and after Christmas he was very good in a number of games. He also scored a few long range goals. Maybe playing lesser teams helped and it is hard to say if he would be as effective at a higher level as he played for a struggling Coventry side and was not playing higher up the division. However for this level and for what he does, he is an ideal type of player. He is another that will be a certain starter next season. Long term he may not be here but for the next season or so I cannot see why he won’t be involved and is another they may give another year or extend his contract at the end of this season. Like Collins that is never something I thought I would have said 12 months ago.
Williamson was another that many thought may move on. His poor disciplinary record and also questionable injury/fitness record may have helped in him remaining but I recall there were a few clubs that put out feelers on him last summer. He stayed but began the season on the bench at Oldham as United preferred new signing Ryan Flynn. He did make his first impact when he came on and turned the game against Walsall with an impressive goal, assist and winning a key penalty.
He stayed in the side and combined well with Matt Lowton giving us a strong partnership down the right hand side where we often looked a threat. As the season went on he was able to weigh in with a number of goals and assists. His finishing was very good and I cannot recall many occasions when he did not hit the target. One performance at Preston where he scored two goals were key in the victory. He showed his technical ability, always looked to get it down and play and put some good crosses in to add to his shooting/goalscoring. His corners were a mixed bag to say the least and a number were wasted; being floated or hitting the first man. He became a vital ingredient and a regular as we went on the impressive run either side of Christmas.
The major negative for me was that in the big games when it mattered he did seem to disappear or put in some of his worst performances of the season. He did well against the lesser sides but in games against some of the top sides he often went missing or had games where his touch/passing and general play deserted him. His performances in the vital home game (against Stevenage – cost us the first goal) and also at Wembley were really poor.
Despite this we will still be playing most of these poor sides again next year so you no reason why he would not be successful. His finishing is very good and he is a good footballer and too good for this level. He could easily play for many Championship sides and his injury/disciplinary record was not an issue for the first time with the club. I am unsure whether he will accept a new deal. I suppose it depends what we have offered him. He said he wants to stay but money talks and I would not be surprised if he did move on. Like with Quinn (and McDonald) if we want to have another shot at it next year then we need to hold onto him.
McDonald had seen a promising start to his career disappear as he was effectively left on the scrapheap after being released by Burnley. He had been part of their promotion/Premiership squad and had been seen as a real talent (remember 2 goals v Arsenal in the league cup) after coming down from Scotland. He never really was part of new manager Eddie Howe’s plans and after less than successful spells out on loan (Notts County) he left Turf Moor. He never found a club over the summer and actually came on trial before eventually signing and making his debut I the first home game against Brentford.
He stood out as someone who was very tall, quite imposing but more than that very cultured on the ball. He had a lovely range of passing and never seemed rush. He could go long and short and he pinged the ball around with ease. It was great to finally see this sort of player in a Blades shirt after the much hyped incomers of Britton, Howard, Harper did not work out. The one major knock on him was hit fitness as he struggled to last full games, get up and down as much as you would like in a midfielder and sometimes that left us vulnerable defensively. Still his strengths far outweighed his weaknesses. It would have been nice if he had chipped in with a few more goal as his ability should see him score more than the few he did register.
As the season went on he was a vital cog and his supply to Evans, Lowton, Williamson saw many chances and goals come about. He stood out like a beacon at this level with his first touch and vision.
When he got injured and missed games against Wednesday and quite a few others we really missed him and his absence coincided with a dip in form. He came back and seemed to help us get over the line but he once again got injured in the playoffs and was not available at Wembley. Unsure nature of injury but would have liked to have seen him just give it a go at Wembley (may sound daft as it may have been torn I suppose) but him at 50% is better than Monty at 100%. He seemed to struggle with his hamstring much of closing stages of season and pulled up a few times. It never seemed right after he injured it.
We have offered him a new contract and it is imperative that him over all the rest that are 50/50 whether they stay or go, does remain at the club. With him in the side, if we get some fresh blood up front we can create and score a lot of goals again next season. My gut feeling is he may have done enough to get a move back up the pyramid and he may decide another year in league one, like with Quinn and Williamson, is a bit of a waste of year. Be nice if he valued loyalty as we gave him a chance to get his career back on track but sadly money talks. I would offer him a long term, 3 or 4 year with incentives on games played but probably wages wise we won’t be able to compete with other sides.
Flynn was our only cash signing in the summer and was reckoned to be a promising winger who had spent some time at Liverpool before returning to Scotland with Falkirk where he had began his career. He began the season against Oldham and in his early games he made minimal impact and seemed to lack the strength and pace to really worry full backs. He lost his place quite early in the season as Wilson went with Williamson and Quinn out wide. He played in some games but mostly was a sub and when Phillips came in further went down the pecking order. He did come back into the team and had an impressive spell just after Xmas scoring two decent goals in successive games against Notts County and Hartlepool and looked like he could be a goal threat. Sadly after this he did not score again and through a mixture of Williamson’s form and an injury was more of a squad player. He did have a nice cameo in the second half against Stevenage and actually put in a great cross for Cresswell’s header. He did play in all of the play off games as our loss of strikers meant we went with a 5 in midfield but had little impact from an attacking point of view despite always working hard and covering well defensively.
Overall I have to say I was disappointed with Flynn. I hear he does a job for the team and covers well for the full back but I expect more from a winger. I cannot recall him beating a man all season and did not get many crosses in (other than one mentioned) all season. He seemed a bit scared when he got on the ball and never really went at his man. Maybe it is because he lacks pace, trickery or conviction but for me as a winger he offers very little and players who work hard, up and down the flank are ten a penny at this level. He is a useful squad player to have around for cover but for a team going for promotion or the higher level he has not convinced me. I have heard people saying with more time he can be an asset but you can’t suddenly gain pace/skill/strength. Hopefully he will prove me wrong next year but if we start the season with Quinn, Williamson and A N other in terms of a pacey winger coming in, then I will be pleased and see Flynn merely as a fill in type player at the moment.
I was surprised we were able to sign Phillips as he had been in and out of the Blackpool Premiership side and scored a few goals. He seemed an exciting prospect and why he was not playing for Blackpool was beyond me? Still we saw an opportunity and fair play to Wilson. It was his one loan that really came off. Phillips scored a superb brace at Preston, another against MK Dons (the winner) and scored a further couple in the mad game against Exeter. After he scored another against Bradford in the JP Trophy, he then went back to Blackpool as we all expected.
Holloway had got exactly what he wanted in terms of the games/sharpening up and reinvigorating of his player’s confidence. Phillips went back to Blackpool, got back in their side and scored lots of goals and was a key man. He is now in the Scotland squad and is being linked with moves to the Premier League after Blackpool just missed out on promotion; a game in which his good finishing for once was missing.
Phillips was fast, good on the ball and made/scored goals. He looked a really talented player who had maybe just lost his way. I am sure he will go on to have a good career; maybe even in the top flight as good touch, finishing and sheer pace are qualities that go for a lot of money. He is not perfect and even at United he had a few poor games (Orient away) but that goes with the territory for a winger as not every game do you fly past your man routinely or score goals with every shot you hit as Phillips seemed to do for much of his spell at the Lane.
McAllister had looked quite promising at the back end of the relegation season showing a few goals and looking to be a midfielder that could get forward and actually get beyond the strikers ,strike a shot and score a goal; a rarity for a Blades midfielder! His passing and touch seemed more than reasonable even if he did not always get involved in the dirty side of the game. He looked a fair footballer whom with more games under his belt might develop.
This season saw him only start 4 games; I recall him doing ok against Bury and then was quite poor at Chesterfield. He seemed to disappear for a bit and then went on loan to Shrewsbury where he seemed a regular in a promotion chasing side until an unfortunate red card. He came back and was an unused sub in some of the final/playoff games (I would have thought he would have hit a better penalty than Taylor but easy to say in hindsight and narrow margins I suppose). Next season he really has to push on as he is not a kid now 23. He has two years left so he has time to try and force his way in. A lot will depend on outgoings whether he goes from being a bit part player who may go out on loan again or someone who may end up being more of a first teamer. I think he has some talent but needs to exert himself more when he plays and get on the ball more. He has a good shot, is a decent passer but seems to lack strength and sometimes games pass him by.
Nathaniel Mendez Laing
Mendez Laing came in just before the season and was a sub in the opening few games showing a few glimpses of pace and power when he came on. He got a run of games starting and scored a fortunate goal with an intended cross against Bury, but overall he did not convince me. He overplayed on the ball and at times seemed to lack composure or an end product. He seemed to have some ability but at times his touch would let him down and seemed to be carrying excess weight. He got a few injuries and then we he was set to come back got another bad one (against Rotherham was it) and we never saw of him again as he went back to Wolves. Another loan player that did not really work. Cannot see him making it at Wolves to be honest and expect him to turn up in the lower leagues in the not too distant future.
Chappell had a few cameos in the Cup games and seemed a regular in the reserves but unsure if he has enough to really challenge for the first team. I thought he was out of contract but maybe he has a bit longer as he was not announced as being released? Unsure why we would keep him as he is now 20; never been on loan and the fact no team has taken him despite him being a reserve regular indicates he might not make it.
Liked the look of Harriott in the Youth Cup games I saw last season. He looked decent on the ball and always wanted to get involved and looked a busy sort of player. He had a few cup appearances earlier in the season and even started at Everton but then disappeared back to the reserves where games are few and far between. He ended up on loan at Burton but that did not work out and came back. Like a few others, Long (and Tonne) needs to push on if they ever want to make it at the Lane and it is worrying when they have gone out on loan and been sent back or not featured as with the case with some of these. Another that I thought was out of contract but maybe he too has a bit longer?
Tonne had showed a few flashes at the back end of the previous season for the reserves and came on in the home game against Middlesbrough. He stayed around and was able to score a few very good goals at Burton in the JP Trophy (that proved to be winner) and also against Bury (a finely taken scissor kick volley). In that cameo he showed good pace and vision and looked promising. It was odd that he somewhat disappeared after this (guess we do not see them train every day) but did go out on loan to York. Strangely and worryingly even for the non league level Tonne was not picked and only played four times. He has another 2 years left but again needs to at least make an impact out on loan if he is going to be considered for selection back here. I had liked the look of him more than maybe the other developmental players I had seen so maybe he is one that we should not give up on just yet.
Next season if we can keep our players midfield should be our strongest area. If we started with the usual axis of Doyle, McDonald, Williamson and Quinn we would almost certainly have the strongest midfield in the division. We have some decent backups in Montgomery (if he stays), Flynn and McAllister but if we added a bit of raw pace we would be set in this area. Sadly I cannot see it being as straight forward as this. Of the backups not sure Harriott and Chappell are going to make it but Tonne and McAllister do have some promise. All 4 needs games elsewhere with maybe only the latter someone who you could say he could maybe play first team football with us now for more than the odd game.
Flynn needs to show more from an attacking point of view as he is steady but we need more. If he does not he will be a back up at best but if others leave he will be relied on more and needs to give us more of a final product.
I expect at least one of the trio, Quinn, McDonald and Willo to move on, maybe all 3. Montgomery is the one who needs to move on but we will probably be stuck with him for his final year.
If some of these move on we need to act fast and get some replacements with creativity, goals and pace key. It is more important than ever we hold onto some of these as if all move on we are left with Monty, Flynn, Doyle and McAllister and that midfield is barely good enough for the middle of the league in my opinion. They need to do whatever they can to keep McDonald. If we lose one of Quinn or Williamson whilst they will be missed, neither are what I would call out and out wingers. This would at least give us chance to bring in someone who is a bit different in terms of real pace; a proper winger if you like. What the midfield is on opening day will be key to the season we have. If we lose a few and bring in poor replacements, then it will be hard for us to contend.
Ched Evans United career had been disappointing to say the least for his first two seasons with the club. Whether he came in for 1.5 or 3 million, it is fair to say he did not have the impact many thought he would. Seen as a real talent at Man City; he had been a regular in their Premier League squad (before the big money investment of course) and it was seen as a bit of a coup when we signed him. He had begun well but for 2 seasons his career was somewhat stop-start due to poor form, injuries and constant change of managers/styles of football. He simply never had a consistent run in the side and when he did play he was very hit and miss.
We all expected him to move on in the summer but then news of a possible misdemeanour off the field meant there could be a possible court case looming. This coupled with his high wages saw him remain at the Lane although he did not start the season due to an injury with rumours swirling matters off the pitch also contributing to his lack of involvement.
He finally did appear and score when he came off the bench at Scunthorpe but for the next few weeks he was in and out of the side. With Phillips and Clarke coming in he was still not a first team regular although did score a few goals with one against Wednesday standing out. After coming on and scoring a free kick at Stevenage; he eventually became a regular beginning against Oxford in the FA Cup and went on an incredible run scoring 30 goals in 30 games and eventually finished with 35 for the season.
He suddenly looked a different player and was scoring goals from all over; free kicks (superb at these and dead eye; always seemingly hitting the target), penalties, poachers goals, one on ones, scrambled efforts; the lot. He showed some pace we never thought he had and his movement and link play was superb. More than anything he showed hunger, desire and work rate we had never seen from him on a regular basis. He became our talisman and along with Jordan Rhodes was clearly the most dangerous and sought after player in the division.
I do not think he had much help with partners either with many being a bit hit and miss with Cresswell’s work rate being the only option that really worked and they formed a decent partnership from the sense that his work rate allowed Evans to profit to some degree.
Evans was looking the complete article and whilst we were playing against lesser sides you still got the sense that the penny had dropped and Wilson was giving him free reign and getting the best out of him. At times he was our best winger and playmaker too. He looked like scoring every time we went forward.
You sensed he would score the goal to get us up but then it emerged there would be the court case just after Rochdale away. As it happened it went on for 2 weeks almost and despite it seeming from the outside that there was reasonable doubt it was a shock to many when he was convicted of rape; especially when the other guy was acquitted. Of course we were not in the court room and the jury had far more to go on than we did. This has been debated to death and I am not going through it all again. At best Evans had acted in an idiotic manner last summer and there is no doubt his actions had a major affect on us not going up. You could say he scored the goals to put us in with a chance but I would also argue his lack of performances/goals in the previous campaigns had contributed to us going down too!
The timing of the conviction saw the team unravel and fail to win the final three games. It cannot have been easy for Wilson and the rest of the team and I feel in the last week many players have alluded to it for the first time without mentioning it directly.
He may appeal but in all likelihood even if it does go to appeal; then it could take 12-18 months. He is going to serve around 30 months and may even be near release before any appeal does take place. His life will never be the same again and it will be interesting to see if he tries to get back into the game upon his release. No doubt a club in the lower leagues would give him a chance, as they did with Lee Hughes, and he will have to work his way back up the divisions again. Too much water has passed under the bridge in terms of the Blades and he will never play for this club again. That I am pretty certain of. United need to move on and consign it to the history books. It is another case of a shocking event affecting this football club and its fans and contributing to them failing when they are so close to the end.
One final thought is that Evans was reportedly on 15K a week and if this is the case he cost the club 2 million in wages over the period. Mind boggling.
Grade incomplete- A- up to the conviction but F- for this idiocy which contributed to his conviction and probably cost us promotion
Cresswell had been impressive in his loan spell but did not have the same impact once he signed a three year deal and became a permanent player at the club. I felt last season age started to catch up on him and he did not look the same player and it looked an ill advised move to give him such a big contract. He remained at the club as like many such wages probably put off any interested parties and began very well with goals in his opening 3 league games to help us win 3 games.
He teamed mostly with Chris Porter in the opening part of the season and whilst they lacked pace and movement, they had the nous and experience to get a few goals and help us to get to the top of the league.
After the good start with goals he then went on a long drought and did not score again until late October. He then went long spells without goals again and after scoring at Bury in January he went 16 games without a goal or even looking like scoring which was less than impressive at this level.
He ended up playing more by default as we did not have any other real options that pressed their claim and you could say his work ethic and running along the line freed up some space for Evans. I never felt they were a partnership of sort and can’t recall him making many goals. He kind of escaped criticism due to Evans’ form and the fact we were winning but I often felt he was one of the weak links.
I did feel his lack of pace was even more noticeable and he always seemed shattered and never lasted full games. He always seemed to be struggling to keep up with play and at times watching other players give him a 10 yard start and still catch him was worrying. Despite this he still showed his experience at times with some decent hold up play, linking up with others and the odd goals although 9 league goals was not quite enough at this level.
He was a regular in the side (played 51 games in all competitions which was too much and probably explained why he ran out of steam) for the most part even when the likes of Evans came back and Clarke, Hoskins, O’Halloran and Beattie were drafted in at various stages.
When the Evans decision came and with the injuries to Hoskins and sending off of Beattie; he suddenly became needed and was seen as a key man again! He scored against Stevenage and made an impact as we came back in the draw but could not force the win but then actually only played briefly in the semi finals against Stevenage with injury ruling him out of the second leg. He came back against Huddersfield but I felt he was ineffective in the final and did not really do anything of note. Albeit he had little service but his lack of pace, strength and ability to last full games came to the fore again.
Porter was a player that had scored goals in the lower divisions and been successful in Scotland but an awful injury record saw him struggle to make an impact at Derby. He was released in the summer and United gave him a deal reckoning he would shake off previous injuries and be able to score goals lower down. He began the season starting but was less than impressive in the opening games and seemed remarkably slow and immobile. His first touch was really poor although he was decent in the air and taller than I remembered him. He never looked like he would ever score a bucket of goals and like Cresswell he seemed lacking in fitness and tired very easily.
Porter lost his place when Evans came in and became a bit part player with Wilson going with Cresswell and Evans for the run in. He still ended up starting 34 games in various competitions and whilst he was never a regular from around October time; he was always involved in some form. However after scoring at Orient in October he only scored 1 more league goal all season. With all the injuries and circumstances surrounding the strikers he ended up being our salvation in the playoffs against Stevenage and did ok at Broadhall Way and then gave his best performance as a Blade in the second leg; working tirelessly and scoring the winner. I was a little surprised he did not start at Wembley and felt he came on too late when he was brought on.
I was under the impression he had been given a longer contract than a year when United announced they had offered him a new deal. Maybe it was 1 year with a club option for another year? I was surprised we offered him terms though as I do not think he did enough over the course of the season and feel we could try and sign younger, faster and hungrier players from the lower leagues that would probably be on cheaper wages too.
Hopefully he can prove me wrong if he stays and have more of an impact next season but he does not possess the key characteristics in a striker; namely someone who can score goals and worry defenders either through pace, movement or power. He may be best used as a back up for when we want to go long as he can win headers/the high ball more than any of our other options.
Bogdanovic was signed from Barnsley where he scored a fair few goals and was seen as a decent signing even if many cynics suggested it was due to the Malta connections why he came in. He never cemented a place in his first season and despite clear ability/vision and touch; he lacked desire and at times seemed too lackadaisical. His main skill was his ability to con…sorry win penalties by falling theatrically in the box. He never seemed to want to get his shirt dirty and he was extremely lazy despite some genuine technical ability. He never became a regular and played only 12 times (22 sub appearances), scoring 5 goals. He remained despite some rumours suggesting he may move on.
He began on the bench but when he did come on in the first few games he gave the ball away and continued to look disinterested. It looked like we were saddled with him but on the eve of the August deadline, Ian Holloway strangely saw something he liked and signed him for a nominal fee. He did not make much impact there which was not a surprise and only started 1 game (he did score 2 goals but mostly was a sub). He ended up on loan at Rochdale and Notts County but did not really shine at either clubs. He was released at the end of the season by Blackpool and now faces an uncertain future. He said he wants to stay in England but needs to start putting some real effort in if he wants to be valued somewhere and not play like it is a practice match or kick about in the park.
Hoskins had been prolific in the lower leagues after early promise at Rotherham had led to an ultimately unsuccessful spell with Watford (moved with Lee Williamson). After getting back up the leagues after doing well with Bristol Rovers, he struggled to hold down a regular spot at Brighton. He only started 2 games (with 5 as a substitute); and was let out on loan at the end of January. On the face of the move, it seemed a good signing and if you had given most United fans a choice between him Ranger or Antonio; I think most United fans at the time would have said they would have preferred Hoskins. He scored on his debut against Wycombe and looked really sharp but after this he was mostly on the bench as we opted to continue with Evans and Cresswell. He was played after we had a poor run (Oldham/Walsall) but began in a wide position at Brentford and Colchester. He was poor at Brentford but did score at Colchester. After this he was back on the bench for the next few games before picking up an injury. He did not return for selection until MK Dons away and with our lack of options up front he started but did not seem fit and picked up another injury and was never seen again.
I thought he would prove to be a useful signing and good back up for Evans if the worst happened (as it did) but it never really happened. Even when he played he never really convinced and his involvement was limited. He seemed quite quick but was weak and shoved off the ball easily and overall did not quite do enough in an albeit stop-star spell.
When Beattie was rumoured to be coming back most fans including myself were genuinely excited. He had been superb in his first spell and despite barely playing a game for 2 seasons at Blackpool and Rangers; he surely would make an impact at League One level? He was reckoned to be way off fitness and thus spent a lengthy period on trial and then signed a short term deal before it was converted into a longer spell that would last till the end of the season.
He never seemed to get proper match fit the whole time and oddly was not given reserve or practice games to get fit. He always seemed to make just cameo appearances but with us scoring goals and doing well, you could not make the case to start him. When they did he was poor (Scunthorpe at home). He maybe should have been given more time but even when he came on he looked slow and unable to keep up with play (granted it is hard to get into games with little time left). However his desire to do well over spilt into stupidity when he decided to grab a Charlton player by the throat in a melee and rightly was sent off meaning he was out for a further three games. He never really made any kind of impact in the limited time and then when we needed him at the end of the season to come to the fore he let us down badly. Firstly presented with a golden chance at MK Dons to get us a point he somehow missed from a yard and whilst he did make an impact coming on against Stevenage, winning a key header; he then stupidly got sent off at Exeter when given another chance to start. The tackle was wild and totally unnecessary and could have cost us promotion if Wednesday had failed to win and then cost us his services for the playoffs.
I was really disappointed in Beattie as I had hoped he would chip in with 4 or 5 goals and be a really useful player in the run in. It never happened for him and his second spell was a disaster really with two stupid sending offs, no goals and limited contribution of note in any capacity.
It was an easy decision to release him due to his wages and whilst he clearly does have a special association with the club or won’t have come back; even he cannot argue with the decision. Not sure what will happen to him now. On one hand he does not need to play as several big money moves mean he is probably set for life and I cannot see him playing lower league at another club; with lesser wages/facilities. He may end up somewhere like Australia or North America I suppose for one last deal. Shame it did not work out and margins are so slim. If that shot at home to Stevenage had gone in we may have gone up and he would have cemented his place as a Blades legend but it was not be like so many things at the end of the season.
Clarke came in the loan deal that brought him and Matt Phillips to the Lane. He was maybe the more unheralded of the two. He had began his career as a promising young player at Ipswich but numerous loan spells followed before he eventually ended up at Blackpool. He picked up a bad injury ruling him out of the whole of their Premier League campaign and struggled to get into the first team when he returned.
He began at the Lane on the bench but soon got in and was impressive with his movement, clever play and ability to come off the forward area and pick up the ball and create from the ‘hole’. He only scored 1 goal (v Exeter) but made quite a few others and was very impressive I recall in the home game against MK Dons. He was a thinking player and seemed quicker than many of United’s other players. He actually only played 6 games before Blackpool recalled him and Phillips. Whilst Phillips went on to have a major impact; Clarke only made a few substitute appearances and with him being out of contract at the end of the season it seemed he would move on.
So it proved and whilst United were said to be interested, we ended up with Hoskins instead and he ended up signing for Crawley as the financial situation at the Lane maybe hit home if a club in League Two straight out of non league could offer him a better financial package. I did hear he wanted to go back down South though so maybe that was a reason.
He expected him to tear up League Two but in truth that did not happen despite Crawley eventually going up. He only scored 3 goals in 16 games. He will of course now be back playing at the Lane next year in an opposition shirt. A clever little footballer who clearly lacks consistency or would be playing much higher up the leagues. I would have liked him to have stayed at the Lane longer than he did.
Slew had broken into the first team at the end of the previous season and scored a few goals including a cracker to beat Bristol City. He had impressed with his pace and enthusiasm. I must admit he had surprised me as I had not really thought he was ready to crack the first team in league football after seeing him at Shirecliffe and in the reserves. He did well though when he played although he seemed to lack the physicality and toughness against bruising centre backs. He did well in the FA Youth Cup semi final and caused Man Utd real problems with his pace and strong running. He scored and seemed to attract more attention from scouts.
His agent was stupidly pushing him to be moved and with only a year left of his deal, United were put in a difficult situation. Slew clearly would be better staying and continuing his football education at the Lane where he would see games and be able to develop but his agent wanted to cash in. it was a surprise when he signed a new deal on the eve of the season but after beginning on the bench the murmurings never went away. He did score v Brentford but was not a starter most of the time and swayed by his agent he seemed to wrongly think he should be playing every week
It came out of the blue when I got up the day after the August transfer window had close and it was reported he had moved to Blackburn for a fee that could rise to 2 million pounds. His agent had finally got his pieces of silver. For what it is worth United actually did well to get the money they did for someone who had barely played first team football. No blame cannot be attached to the Blades or McCabe when the agent was clearly not going to stop till he got his client and himself the financial package they wanted.
The move was ill advised for Slew and as we thought he never really threatened the first team other than a couple of cameo appearances from the bench. He actually spent some time back playing Academy football as well as the reserves and you worried he was just wasting his time. He eventually ended up back where he started; on a League One bench; after he moved to Stevenage. His impact was minimal and he did not score and actually got sent off for violent conduct in one game. He mysteriously disappeared at the end of the season and did not feature in any of the three games against us.
Unsure what his future holds as he new goes back to Blackburn. Maybe he might get more of a chance at a lower level but he will probably go back on loan to a League One/Two club again. He may as well have stayed with us but once again the greed of agents and football in general could have ruined a promising career before it has started.
I must admit I knew little about or had even hard of O’Halloran when he signed. He was reckoned to be fast and could play wide or up front. He came on against Chesterfield and showed his raw pace but blazed a good chance over. He made a few more sub appearances but seemed quite selfish and panicked when in front of goal. He missed a good chance at Hartlepool and then was restricted to sub appearances the rest of the way until he was given a start in the crucial game at Stevenage. In this game he had a bit of a nightmare, missing two very good chances and delaying to shoot on a few others. He seemed quite selfish and did not get his head up. He also did not chase back and recover situations after he lost the ball. He looked miles off being a professional footballer even at the lower level. However, despite his less than successful spell I still would have liked to have seen him given a longer spell at Wembley and been put alongside Porter against a slow Huddersfield defence. He did take a cool penalty to be fair to him but he won’t be remembered for very long and was other striker that came in that simply did not make an impact and when Evans was unavailable no-one stepped up.
Philliskirk came on loan at the end of the relegation season and had a few sub appearances and was reckoned to make more of an impact in League One but it never happened. He had a few sub/FL trophy appearances and scored a few goals at reserve level but he never pushed on and with all the striking issues/poor form of some of those mentioned; the fact he was not given a chance said it all. Wilson sees him every day in training after all. He did have a spell on loan at Oxford but did not really stand out there which is a concern. It seemed an odd move to give him another year as he seems no nearer breaking through than when he came. It is a big year for him if he wants to have a career in professional football.
With so many players now gone (for various reasons), we are left with the above which is hardly inspiring. I know we started with Porter and Cresswell last year but they are not the sort of players that are going to fire us to promotion with all due respect. They lack pace, mobility and goals. They will not worry defences. That is why I am surprised we gave Porter another deal (or offered him one). I would like us to bring in two new strikers; pace and power being qualities we need. If we did that and had Cresswell/Porter as options then we would have 4 decent options at this level. Sadly I feel the best we can hope for is one incoming (hopefully a goalscorer) and then one of Cresswell or Porter. Next season we will see how we miss Evans as he scored a third of our goals. He also made so many goals.
If everyone stays; which is unlikely; the striking area is the weakest area of the pitch and we really need to bring pace, pace and more pace here but also need an out and out scorer. Not much to ask. Cresswell will toil again but he is nearly done I am afraid and his legs have gone. We need a total fresh injection in this area but with little funds and teams wanting to hang onto any good strikers, I assume it will be more Bosmans. I really hope we can sign some young talent and Dearden and co have actually done some work to get us a gem. Our signings this year (mainly in this area) for the most part did not work and it is vital we do better. We need some excitement in this area and need to move away from the plodders we have.
As I have traditionally done at the end of the last few seasons; it is that time again when I write a review of the campaign with a school report for the different sections of the club. I will look at how they have fared and what are the prospects for next season for each respective department of the club.
I will begin with the review and a breakdown of the board and managers.
I have graded the board, the managers, players and the fans; in a traditional school report style of A+ to F- (every player who started at least one league game).
However, I have had to grade players based on the games they did play so some players who played a lot more; may still get a lower grade despite disproportionate number of games in comparison. If I have missed anyone then please say!
To say this season has been a complete and utter disaster is not an exaggeration whatsoever. At the start of the season I felt like the worst we would achieve would be a middle of the league placing. We had been in the playoff final a season ago and finished the previous season on the verge of the playoffs despite losing some of our better players, having a number of injuries and having to rely on a plethora of loan players. We had kept messrs Morgan, Montgomery and Quinn (all who were rumoured to be leaving) and had added players who had excelled for Championship rivals such as Britton and Bogdanovic. Some fans felt we would contend for the top 6 but I reckoned the losses of further key men such as Kenny and Naysmith (granted they did not play much the previous year) and the lack of speed and creativity would mean we would fall short again. I did feel we would not be anywhere near the bottom with the experienced players we possessed such as Morgan, Henderson and Cresswell.
Of course I did not reckon on losing two of these for almost the entire season and the other basically clearly having lost his legs and not being up to it at this level any longer. The timing of the managerial changes were very poor and of course every single manager could have deemed to have failed. It just seemed one disastrous decision after another and things spiralled out of control with injuries, player departures, poor signings, reliance on loans (yet again after we said we would not go down this route) and then an appalling run of form post Xmas which basically condemned the Blades to League One football.
Kevin Blackwell had remained in charge despite many thinking we should have made a change at the end of the previous campaign. The feeling was the football was dire to watch and he could not take us any further. This coupled with his poor signings in the previous few seasons had many ready to jump onto his back at any kind of bad start for the side. However, even the grumblings over his style aside, most fans would concede that we generally won more than we lost under Blackwell and that mid table would be the absolute minimum.
The season began with a decent result at Cardiff when we had ten men for a lot of the game but got a draw against one of the favourites. However, a shocking showing at Hartlepool in the league cup was followed by disastrous defeat to Neil Warnock and QPR. With Paddy Kenny in the opposing goal; Rangers ran riot and Kevin McCabe made a quick decision to relieve Blackwell of his position. This was a shock to many with it being so soon in the season and many had felt like it was something that surely could/should have been done at the end of the previous campaign and that one result was surely not enough to make such a decision? Talk of prospective investors in the crowd, the Warnock/Kenny undercurrent all maybe accelerated the decision but whilst a lot have fans agreed with it; they probably did not agree with the timing. The feeling was either for doing it at the end of last season or leaving it for now.
Gary Speed was put in charge with many fans feeling positive about the appointment in that it would perhaps welcome a change of style, garner us more respect in the football world and also may lead to different kind of personnel coming into the club due to Speed’s reputation in the game. It did not begin will with an insipid performance against an equally poor Middlesbrough but a howler from Morgan saw Boyd strike a winner and United were bottom of the league. A week late Speed, and United, had their first win against Preston with maybe the goal of the season from Frenchman Calve on his debut. They then won on the road at Derby and things seemed to be looking up but the next run of games showed the inconsistencies of the side and maybe also of Speed. A good performance against Scunthorpe went unrewarded in a bizarre 4-0 reverse but they then beat Pompey in a less than convincing performance the following Saturday. The football was definitely improved and at times a slick passing style was witnessed despite the inconsistency in results. A narrow defeat at Leeds with another sending off, this time from Ward followed. Soon after the Blades drew at Forest but there was another howler from Simonsen, which was becoming a feature of the young season, saw United placed in 18th place at the end of September and any promotion hopes seemed a long way off.
Things got no better as a tame defeat at home to Watford and then an exciting draw with Burnley only came about due to a late goal from the resurgent Yeates. United won at Hull with Yeates on target again but they then put in an abject showing against local rivals Doncaster on live TV when they lost 2-0 but it would have been much more comprehensive as Rovers out passed and outplayed a meek United team. Two more defeats at home came against Coventry and Ipswich and the excellent home record of seasons past was a forgotten memory as the Blades were a soft touch at Bramall Lane with teams licking their chops at a visit to S2. Skipper Morgan was also now ruled out for the remainder of the season with severe ligament damage. The early promise in change of style has now all but disappeared and Speed was clearly struggling to get much out of this collection of players, many of which he had inherited, with Andy Reid the only notable incoming signing.
An unfortunate penalty at Leicester in the final minute robbed the Blades of a deserved win but they did win at Millwall, with loanee Reid now the focal point of the team, hitting a great individual goal. A strange game against fellow struggles Palace came the week after in front of the Sky cameras but United edged a 5 goal thriller with some of the most bizarre refereeing decisions you could wish to see befuddling both sides! A late penalty from Bogdanovic was the difference. United then were easily beaten at Bristol City as rumours of a potential approach for Gary Speed from the Welsh FA were now coming to the surface. A week later the Blades once again lost rather easily at Oakwell and it seemed clear that Speed would be allowed to go now the approach had been confirmed. Sure enough the following week, Speed moved on. He said all the right things about his move but you got the feeling he could not wait to get out with a poor squad and the team seemingly on a downward slide. For what it is worth most United fans were not particularly upset to see Speed move on and the fact that the board did not put up much of a fight seemed to suggest it maybe suited all parties. Maybe it was the right man at the wrong time but that remains to be seen whether Speed can go on and be a success in the game. His early promise at United quickly evaporated and soon United had become undisciplined, easy to beat and as predictable as they were under Blackwell with no pace and simply no one who could put the ball in the net as evidenced by their appalling goals for record.
For the next few games whilst rumours of the next new manager circled around the internet forums and clubs/pubs; the Blades had caretaker manager John Carver in charge. The Blades began well beating Swansea in a decent performance just before Christmas but two high scoring defeats to Hull and Norwich followed. The first came thanks to a last minute breakaway winner and then at Carrow Road, due to some controversial refereeing with another suspect penalty being conceded (another feature of United’s season). Carver’s reaction after this latest loss confirmed he knew he/the refs/his players had blown his chance. United were now 4th from bottom and clearly locked in a relegation battle.
It seemed the appointment was between Sean O’Driscoll and Micky Adams and despite rumours and counter rumours over O’Driscoll being now the frontrunner; a week passed and no appointment was made. The Doncaster manager then said he was staying at the Keepmoat which suggested that talks had taken place but for whatever reason the appointment was not made. Days later Adams was put in charge with a bizarre interview from CEO Trevor Birch suggesting things maybe had not gone quite as they had hoped in the appointment after his words only weeks earlier.
A defeat at Burnley opened the Adams tenure poorly and then a late Kozluk goal stole a point at home to Doncaster. The Blades then went out of the Cup days later to Premiership Aston Villa despite a brave effort. A point at Coventry promised a more resolute unit but more home defeats defeats to Norwich and Leicester soon followed. Adams was clearly already in trouble and seemed powerless to turn things around. Players such as Britton, Bartley and Ward departed with Doyle and Collins coming in to raised eyebrows. More loanees came in with Lowry, Bent, Mattock all arriving. It seemed to make little difference as despite two penalties won and converted by Bogdanovic to earn two draws versus Millwall and Reading; the first win for Adams would not come and they were stuck in the bottom three.
Faced with three crunch games in a week against relegation rivals; Adams had to get off the mark; but a defeat at Palace was followed by an awful evening in Lincolnshire as United somehow coughed up a two goal lead to lose to the lowly Iron. Days later the Blades produced another lacklustre performance as they lost to a poor Derby side. It seemed now that it was debatable whether Adams would see the season out as United seemed entrenched in the relegation places. United lost on the South Coast at Portsmouth but finally the long awaited victory came against promotion seeking Forest at the Lane with young Lowton heading a winner at the Kop end. It was back to the drawing board though for Adams the following Saturday as a dreadful first half at Watford saw United lose 2 goals and 2 players with the shocking indiscipline rearing its ugly head again regardless of how much the coaches and fans protested about unfortunate decisions.
United finally put in a complete performance when they saw off Leeds 2-0 and could have won the game 5 or 6. This maybe would signal the start of the late revival? It was another false sawn as they were beaten easily at leaders QPR and then after missing several chances contrived to lose at home again; this time to Middlesboro with a late goal being a hammer blow. They lost in more usual circumstances to Cardiff the following Tuesday and it seemed relegation now was inevitable. The following week relegation rivals Preston put them to the sword and United were now rock bottom and it was only a matter of time before their fate was confirmed.
An introduction of young players buoyed them to rare back to back wins against Bristol City and then unbelievably at Reading, after being two down. However the coup de grace was delivered by local neighbours Barnsley who scored a late goal to earn a draw and with it relegated the Blades to the third tier of English football for the first time since 1988. The season ended rather predictably with the final game seeing yet another poor performance and hammering coming at Swansea.
It was a season that saw 10 home league defeats, 5 draws and 7 victories. On the road United only won 4 games (with only one in the final 14 away games) drew 4 and lost 15. United scored 44 goals and conceded 79 goals. Quite simply we did not score enough (Evans leading scorer with 9) and conceded goals aplenty. Some of the goals we let in and the errors we made were laughable and the fact we went long spells without creating anything let along scoring made games almost impossible to win at times. Factor in really poor discipline (most red cards 11) and even some appalling bad luck and poor refereeing decisions (certainly not reasons we went down – we were not good enough) and seemed nothing would go right.
It was a season that began poorly and just got worse and worse with managerial chances seemingly every few months and more player departures only replaced by plug in’s/loan signings. We never seemed to have the same team, the defence had no understanding, certain players played no matter what and others were dropped after one bad game. We used a total of 40 players (which was the joint highest in the Championship) and it seemed a revolving door at the Lane but one that often saw the squad quality lessened as the season went on.
There was mismanagement of the squad from the board and management team in terms of the signings made and how they were used. Not many players could truly say they had a good season and most of the managers failed to get the best out of players they had no matter what could be said about the diminishing quality of the overall squad; save for brief late spells by Quinn and Lowton and maybe some patches from Yeates and Evans earlier in the season. Players who had performed creditably previously such as Simonsen, Nosworthy and Cresswell were simply awful and many other signings did not work.
The bad performances and results just snowballed and it seemed no one could do anything about it. You still thought United may still have enough to get out of it but the terrible run around the end of February to the bottom sides was a sign that they probably would not survive. It was hard to say many positive things about the season, besides the late development of the young players and the unswerving support of the majority if the fans. The future has so many question marks and no one is quite sure what the composition of the coaching and playing staff will be.
Hard to say anything but negative things about our current biggest shareholder, cannot call him chairman anymore and the people he has employed around him. 5 years ago United had been promoted to the Premiership and with the ground, the fan base, the academy and the infrastructure of the club, the Blades seemed like they had made it. Kevin McCabe had to take a lot of credit for literally turning the club around. Fast forward to the following May and United had been relegated; some say cruelly with the aid of Mr Tevez allied to the lack of proper investment in the team and perhaps some negative tactics from the manager who had got us there.
However, despite all this United had the squad and the manager to get us straight back up and there was no reason why we would not become a West Brom (going up and then down and up again) at the very worst such was the strides on and off the pitch that we had made.
For the next 4 years McCabe and his board have made bad decision after bad decision starting with the dreadful appointment of Bryan Robson. McCabe not only appointed Robson but then allowed him to financially burden the club with ludicrous signings on huge wages with his sidekick Terry Robinson also making some blundering gaffes. Signings he seemingly had not allowed Warnock to make when we were in the Premiership were now approved. Robson of course had failed twice as a manager and there was a reason he was unemployed. His management was a disaster and United were nearer the top than the bottom. Finally McCabe saw sense and removed the former England captain. However, the damage was done and high earners such as Beattie, Speed, Naysmith and Hendrie were stuck at the club on lucrative contracts. To be honest you could argue that the appointment of Blackwell was a good one in the short term as he steadied the ship and kept United up. However, you could also argue with a very talented and deep squad any one worth his salt could have done the same. Granted, Blackwell then then took United to the playoff final the next season as they narrowly missed out on promotion but the football was dire despite us possessing some real talent with the emergence of the most talented teenagers from the city in many, many years alongside an experienced squad that was led by an experienced defensive unit.
Surely McCabe should have acted at the end of the horror show put on by Blackwell’s side in the playoff final but he kept faith with him when he offered his resignation? He then oversaw the sales of Naughton and Walker and also gave Blackwell little of the money to restructure the squad. The signings Blackwell did make nearly all failed and the following season was poor with injuries and an over reliance on loan players. Once again McCabe kept the manager and gave him chance to bring more players in despite his poor record in this area. Then he remarkably sacked him after 2 league games! He gave Gary Speed his head but this did not work either and then he appointed Micky Adams; which so far has been another disastrous move. In short every single managerial appointment he has got wrong and the people he has allowed to make key decisions in the club have also failed, from the manager to the new chairman and chief executive.
His activities in trying to supposedly make United a global force has now basically failed. Foreign forays have not worked. It seemed McCabe felt like investment into such clubs and countries could have positive long term affects for him as a businessman and in terms of United’s development but it seems none of them have been cost effective nor productive on the football side. The talk of players being exchanged and United being able to benefit has simply not materialised.
The relationship with Chengdu Blades in China saw the club involved in various scandals related to match fixing and it seems our relationship with them now is only minimal and I believe we are looking to almost pull out; at least in financial terms of this arrangement with it being put back into Chinese ownership. McCabe saw an opportunity to plunge funds and develop property and stadia in Budapest taking over former Hungarian giants, Ferencvaros. However, despite former Blades playing and coaching over there and the club getting promoted, there were problems aplenty with former Terry Robinson leaving under a cloud and numerous crowd disturbances. It seems McCabe was no closer to getting ‘Fradi’ a new stadium and is now looking to move on and has put his shares up for sale. We also have some links with Australian side the Central Coast Mariners but I am unsure if this linkup was anything that official; at least in terms of McCabe’s companies investing a major stake into the club. A season ago we had pages in the programme and website updates about these clubs. The fact is that nothing is now reported confirms that United and McCabe are probably looking to completely move away from these relationships now.
To be fair when looking at the rest of the ‘top men’, it seems Chris Steer and Trevor Birch are pretty much McCabe’s fall guys. Steer was put in charge as chairman but he has little funds nor power to really impact change and seems to be more of a figurehead. They have to give the PR rubbish/excuses to the fans but seem powerless to do anything due to fact McCabe is very much still ‘numero uno’. Birch’s statement about wanting a progressive manager who would allow the club to change its emphasis in the same way as the Academy fell on deaf ears when a man renowned for the direct approach, Micky Adams was eventually appointed. Talks of investment continue but nothing happens. Birch was supposedly brought in to bring such new funds but nothing has happened here yet has continued to draw a large wage and it is unsure what he actually does other than oversee the systematic dismantling of the team/club and further cost cutting. However what is strange is that McCabe has been basically silent and has said nothing about the state of the club, what he is going to do or what his plans are. Ever since the failed World Cup bid and the preference for his neighbours he seems to have gone into hiding.
Maybe he does not have to apologise, maybe he does not have to put any more money in, maybe he does not care but surely he has to do something? (this was written before the Radio Sheffield interview/phone in on May 10th, 2011) We had the statement from the club after the relegation which at least was something and at least they took their share of the blame but missing completely was anything from McCabe with comments only coming from Birch, his son and Steer. Also there was a lot of hypocrisy in the statement with some slights at the signings we have made and the loan approach but surely managers in some ways have had no choice due to the same board selling our best players and thus forcing us down this road or not sanctioning long term signings of note? Apparently we have spent 6 million on fees for loan players over the last 2 seasons but sold players such as Walker/Naughton/Kilgallon/Beattie/Cotterill/Kenny etc, etc? In essence they have ripped the team apart and then asked the manager to replace them with inferior players either on short term contracts or loans. Going back to McCabe and for whatever reason he seems to have abstained from his role; which is surely to ensure the best for Sheffield United football club/public limited company. I fail to see how we go from here as he clearly has so much money invested in the club that he will not allow it to change hands without being recompensed to a large degree. That investor would have to buy him out, lock, stock and barrel and the money we are talking with the debts we owe him and his company is going to scare everyone off. However I am unsure how he makes money out of the club without putting more money in or getting this extra investment? If anything things could get a lot worse before it gets better. If he was going to invest himself in the club, whether it be attracting a top manager or better players then surely he would have done it before now? Now it seems to be too late and the statement seems to prepare us for more sales/departures and more cost cutting. There was honesty in that statement but not really anything tangible in how we are going to get out of the mess other than the obvious reliance on young players we are now faced with. There are so many questions but he is either willing to give us the answers, he does not have the answers or probably to be fairer it is both of these.
Other parts of the club had seemed to move on tremendously but now much of the work in these areas seems to have either been wasted or stalled. The ticket operations previously allowed us to gain extra fans from young children, families and many other fans around the city with the crowd averaging around 25,000 pretty consistently. Still whilst regression on the pitch has perhaps been the major factor we now have a situation where United are not helping themselves. Recent developments see United now seemingly offering no offers whatsoever outside season ticket holders with no half season tickets, match offers or flexi tickets. Bizarre way of attracting fans me thinks and that is coming from a season ticket holder. The commercial side has also not really moved on with United still offering kits of a poor quality with a lesser known company whilst lesser clubs put out superior kits (maybe we do get more money from Macron?). United also are now changing their kit every season with minimal changes to the design or quality (they will argue they gave United a chance to vote for the kit but the designs offered were hardly inspiring).
Other developments saw the departure of commercial manager Andy Daykin who was supposedly pursuing other interests but then later emerged in the same position across the city. This did not seem to add up. A move to install a supporters communication manager, Richard Batho, has not really changed much with little in the way of open and honest communication aside from unpublicised meet ups and the dialogue he has with people who speak to him or e mail him directly. That is not a criticism at him but more at the club. Why has he not been on open forums like Radio Sheffield or even any of the internet forums/chats?
Let’s look at the positives. When we went down to this division back in the late 80’s, we were in a real mess with a dilapidated ground and we did not even own a training base renting pitches around the city.
The ground now does look fantastic and when the Kop does get eventually re-done then we will really have an excellent modern ground that still retains the old fashioned atmosphere and style that many of the new stadia does not possess. When you listen to most away fans that come here they rave about how it is a proper football ground and one they always enjoy visiting.
We have a first class Academy in Shirecliffe that is now finally reaping its rewards. The last youth side that got to the later stages of the Youth Cup featured 4 players now playing very good standard of league football in Naughton, Walker, Lowton, Mellis and now four years later the Blades possess another side that has actually got to the final of this competition with a number of players in and around the first team squad. Whether these players will also be sold off at the first opportunity remains to be seen, but it is clear that United are now producing players.
Hard to really say what is going to happen? The current situation simply cannot go on as the lack of direction from above and the deterioration of the product on the pitch means the club will simply slide into oblivion if the good ship Sheffield United is kept on its current course. At the moment continuing this analogy, the ship seems to not even possess a captain and is completely rudderless.
Of course we would love on one hand McCabe to become interested again and invest but then his decisions have been so poor that maybe this would not be the best thing but his re-emergence as an influential player in our future is still preferable to the current status quo of nothing happening whatsoever. The fact our manager has such an appalling record but he is another backed, sacked or even spoke of says it all. He seems to be another failure who will still be allowed to just limp on until the situation reaches a point where it is beyond repair even further.
The other option most would want is fresh investment, maybe new ownership and a chance for the club to move forward. McCabe has been seen at recent games but his silence continues to be deafening. Difficult to see if the likes of Birch stay on due to his significant salary and his failure to procure investment. The other board members matters little as they lack the power nor money to make things happen. Anything else below this level whilst important from the aforementioned ticketing to merchandise to supporter liaison is all rendered as minimal in importance if the man who holds all the power is not able to wield some influence or get things moving in the right direction either himself or by passing the torch over to someone else who can impart change. We will wait and see but I cannot see anything hugely significant happening in the short term and feel we are in for a bumpy ride with things set to get worse before they get better.
Kevin Blackwell was only in charge for 3 games this season and lost 2 and drew 1. I have discussed his failings and some successes of seasons past and am not prepared to go over old ground. I actually feel he was harshly treated in the sense that his dismissal came so early in the season but then I am one of those that also feel he was lucky to be given a chance to return for the last 2 seasons after his previous errors in signings, selections, tactics and approach. Overall his spell in charge considering the players he inherited and the talent he had at his disposal in the first few years coupled with the amount of players (if not fees) he could bring in, both permanent and loan; has to be considered disappointing. The fact no other club has employed him since tells a story and I feel like whilst he did a creditable job initially his reign was allowed to go on too long. For this season alone I cannot really say much positive despite a decent start, as an awful defeat at Hartlepool was followed by a shocking display to QPR.
Grade F (for the 3 games)
Gary Speed has always seemed to be the manager in waiting and rumours of him taking over from Blackwell has been mentioned many times before even going back to the playoff final defeat. Speed had been brought in by Robson but Blackwell had embraced him as a coach and had increased his role and responsibility despite the fact that deep down he knew he could be grooming his successor. This eventually proved to be the case and his appointment after Blackwell left was not a surprise. Of course he had never managed before at any level but most Blades felt his personality, respect and his desire to play more of a passing game would allow him to be more successful than his predecessor.
The opening games were promising at least in terms of performances with a few home games seeing some bright and enterprising football even if chances and goals were at a premium. The results were mixed and it seemed United also had a problem with discipline with numerous penalties being conceded and a number of dismissals for players. The results did not improve and the performances tailed off with United’s sloppy defending allied to the inability to put the ball in the net seeing us slide towards the bottom of the table. Speed seemed helpless to arrest the slide and his comments in the media indicated he was becoming a little frustrated at not being able to bring players in. Most United fans now seemed to wonder if he was really the answer and his body language was becoming increasingly despondent.
The phrase ‘right man, wrong time/club’ was being brandished a lot but in reality it seemed Speed was essentially a rookie who perhaps should have began his managerial career in the lower leagues and maybe was not ready for such a challenge with a poor squad of course not helping. Speed simply could not get the best out of the players he had though and with performance and results poor it seemed he was actually under pressure. However, United and Speed in some ways had the ideal way to part amicably as Wales came in and took Speed as their next manager. It was a remarkable appointment as despite Speed being a former captain, very likeable and media friendly, his early days as a manager had not been promising. Will he ever be a good manager or a success? That remains to be seen but when he was at Sheffield United, it has to be said that overall, Gary Speed’s brief tenure as manager (18 games; 6 wins) was not a success and whilst he seemed a thoroughly decent guy, it is fair to say he has to take a fair share of blame for the predicament the team is now in.
John Carver was only in charge for a few games but there was actually some encouragement in the fact we finally showed some fight and some life and scored goals. We scored 5 in 3 games after being so poor in this area previously. We played well and deservedly beat Swansea at the Lane and then were a touch unfortunate in defeats against Hull and Norwich. However, they were defeats whatever the circumstances and more poor defending plagued us. Also, the ill discipline continued as we were involved in two full large confrontations against Hull and Norwich and had another sending off. The results in the games he oversaw ultimately confirmed he would not get the job he was always a long shot to obtain but he at least did show some passion in the games. His tactical naivety and lack of first team management experience at this level meant he was probably always going to be a caretaker and it was no surprise he left the club as soon as Adams was appointed. He is now back at Newcastle coaching; a job and location probably perfect for him.
Grade E- (for the 3 games)
Micky Adams had been a revelation in his early days as manager with success at Fulham, Brighton and also Leicester but in recent days his star has fallen and he had seen appointments at Coventry, and Brighton (again) not really work out. He had to go right back down the leagues to Port Vale but was seemingly showing his worth again taking a previously struggling side towards the top of League Two. He is someone that had always been linked with United due to his affinity for the club and local roots but for one reason or another it had never happened until now.
With Sean O’Driscoll seemingly dallying and others not convincing (Scott, Brown etc) ; United eventually plumped for Adams. The appointment once again had mixed reviews from fans with some claiming he would instil passion and commitment sadly lacking this season, allied to the fact he was a Blade and Sheffielder to boot. Sceptics suggested there was a reason why he managed so many clubs and now was back in the bottom of the football league pyramid. Whatever camp you were in; most would have thought a new manager would provide a fresh impetus but this sadly did not happen. We lost games routinely at the start of his tenure and whilst the initial performances were better and more committed initially many things did not change and in fact got worse. We still had rotten luck in terms of officials’ decisions or key moments going against us but these excuses were becoming tiresome. Granted in some games we actually were the better side (Norwich, Leicester) but simply could not win games; sorry ‘a’ game.
We could not stop conceding silly goals nor score them at the other end. Things seemed to spiral out of control and poor signings did not help Adams cause when he had a chance to inject some enthusiasm, pace and freshness into the side. The likes of Bent, Collins and Doyle actually made the squad worse whilst superior players such as Ward, Bartley and Britton, although not world beaters, were allowed to leave. We continued to have players sent off and continued to give away the most ridiculous of goals, whilst routinely losing at so called ‘fortress’ Bramall Lane, which these days was anything but. The small improvements in performances had now all but disappeared and Adams style of play (which seemed to move between direct football to hopeless attempts at possession football) was not gaining plaudits or results.
His team selections also were surprising to say the least at time as he persisted with players he signed such as Collins and Doyle but then said he had inherited the mess. It became a little bizarre as more loan players came and went but the by now it seemed as if the situation was lost. After we lost at Palace, Scunthorpe and then to Derby many felt Adams would either walk or be pushed but in the face of no real interest let alone concern from the board, he carried on. We actually finally got a few wins towards the end of the campaign but it was too little too late and the relegation that had looked possible when he took over became pretty much almost certain as early as March.
Adams has not got many things right in terms of his signings, team selections, tactics, playing style and most importantly results. Many other managers would have been dismissed (no matter how short the time he has been in charge – see Strachan; Boro, Barraclough; Scunthorpe, Burley; Palace) but he was allowed to carry on. At times his body language suggested he did not know what to do next and his interviews at times were strange as he went from praising the team one week to lambasting them the next. In short he had no answers. He will point to the late season fight and the introduction of youth but these things should have happened a lot sooner as he probably knows. His final interview after the Swansea game was bizarre as he said there were many people at the club he did not want to work with and spoke of ‘bad eggs.’ Maybe some of these bad eggs (Britton – in playoffs, Ward – helped keep Derby up, Bartley – playing for Scottish champions and even Yeates) would have done better than those he brought in? Just a thought. He then said he wanted to do his things from the first day of pre season but what has he been doing for the previous 6 months? His job is to manage the players he has (maybe he does not like all of them but they are a squad that should have done far better –Speed as guilty as him of course) and he has not done this. I know the problems are much higher and clearly all emanate at board room level but I still expect our manager/s to have done a far better job than they have done this year.
Adams seems to be a manager that is unsure of what style he wants to play or what kind of approach he wants to take and seems a bit of a dinosaur in how he manages and his comments to the media. He has openly admitted he does not always believe in or use video technology and allegedly does not really use things such as Prozone or statistical breakdowns/analysis. I am unsure if he has the ability, ingenuity or ‘out of the box’ ideas to propel whatever team he has to be successive. Adams’ has the worst record percentage wise of any permanent manager we have ever had (4 wins out of 24- 17%). Also question marks over his number two Alan Cork have to be asked as was supposedly one of the top attacking coaches around yet under him we have scored very few goals nor looked like scoring in many games; certainly until the end of season flurry when it mattered little.
Away from the first team, the Development Squad (what is that tag all about?) or the Reserves as I call it has been coached by Mark Smith who also seems to be around the first team on match days. Odd he has been kept on as we have been through 4 managers and he has been retained? Not sure whether he will stay on next season. The reserves at least consist of mostly young players and some of these ‘development’ players actually look promising.
Maybe for once our scouts may have been able to uncover some gems in the likes of McAllister, Tonne and Harriott who have been brought into the club at a relatively young age from elsewhere. It has certainly been a major weakness in years past and hopefully we can now sign players from lower league/non league clubs that also can be utilised rather than rely on players no better than what we have (Collins, Doyle), ageing players (Cresswell), Premiership reserves on loan (too many to mention) or players that seemingly are just looking for their last contract (Bent). At least a review of the scouting system has been mentioned as a priority as whoever the manager/coaches have been out signings on the whole have been awful over the last 3 or 4 years.
Dave Bassett came in as a football consultant but it seemed to make little difference to results or performances and it did not seem as if he was massively involved. He sat in the stand for a few games but did not seem to be involved in the actual coaching nor have a direct first team match day role. We had a few sound bites over what his old Blades side did to stay up and then what they had to do when they went down but I am unsure how we can afford to retain a ‘consultant’ at League One. Personally speaking I would have brought him as a manager till the end of the season (ok he’s a dinosaur now but may have galvanised us to stay up) or not at all. If he was going to be brought in he needed to be more hands on and that did not seem to be case at least from afar.
Whatever does happen it seems that the safest man in the club on the coaching side is John Pemberton who has done a splendid job in his first season in charge of the academy. The appointment of Pemberton has continued the work that the likes of Ron Reid and Kevin Fogg did before him and Pemberton has his teams not only winning but playing the right way with a discipline and commitment to their profession. There is talk Pemberton may even be offered the first team job if an opportunity came about such is how much he has impressed in such a short space of time. For what it is worth I would leave Pemberton where he is for now as he is doing such a good job; if he moves into the first team hot seat where does that leave the Academy and if it does not work for him as manager can we really move him back there; no; he would be sacked and we would have not first team manager (again) and have lost the person responsible for instilling such changes in the Academy. He has done a lot in a year. I do wonder what he could do in 2 or 3 years?
It seems Adams (and Cork) future is in limbo. They may remain for the reasons that we perhaps cannot afford to change another manager; unless those rumours of Pemberton taking over come to fruition. It seems it is only the complete disinterest of the board that has seen him retain his job. Strangely some fans still seem to think he is the man to take us forward but I am unsure what they are basing this on as the results, performances, signings, team selections and tactics have been poor to say the least (yes we will have a clear out but that will be determined by relegation and our inability to keep the high earners rather than Adams’ choice and also we will play youth but that again has been forced on Adams).
His results record and performances obviously are the biggest concern moving forward but his cries of it not being his team and also blaming the previous managers do not wash as he had half a season in charge of them and his signings almost every one (maybe Riise and possibly Lowry/Vokes accepted) were really poor. It may seem like from my criticism I do not want him to succeed but I do. He seems a really genuine, decent guy and a Blade and I would love nothing more for him to get us back up and eventually back in contention for the Premiership but sadly from everything I have seen so far I am not sure he is up to it. The only reason for him perhaps staying is he knows what a mess we are in and probably knows the problems more than a new manager who would come in and have to look at things from fresh and take them longer to see the problems. Sadly from what he has done so far I don’t think he has addressed the problems in the team/squad at all so perhaps having knowledge of the situation and being here is overrated though. Many of the players at the club have not exactly upped their game since he has come with only maybe Lowton and Quinn improving. Many seem to have thrown in the towel some time ago.
Do not get me wrong I think it will be a tough task for whoever it is and I am not one for this constant change of manager which has clearly not helped us (although I would say to the media who keep levelling this at the club as the main reason for relegation they have all failed so do you just persist with managers who are losing games?). However, if and it is a big if, he does remain I think Adams has got to start the next season very well and he will have little margin for error. I am fearful though that if he does stay; that come September/October after a poor start we may be changing things again and wasting another 6 months than if we had acted at the end of this season.
I do know that the problems at this club go a lot higher than the manager and whoever the present incumbent is but now with things at the helm as they are, the manager is crucially important as he is maybe the only man who can inject some positivity into the club and its fans at the moment. 23 years ago we had Dave Bassett and after a number of inspire signings for relatively cheap fees we started to bounce back. I hope Bassett can sprinkle some magic onto Adams to do likewise but in today’s market with the scarcity of gems like Deane, Agana, Bryson for affordable prices; it will be much tougher. I repeat what I said earlier and I do hope that Adams’ can turn things around but he will know if he does remain he does not have long to convince the board and the fans; no matter what circumstances surround him.
Steve Simonsen had been excellent on loan in the closing stages of the previous season and when Paddy Kenny surprisingly moved on most thought (including myself) we would not suffer too much in this department. How wrong they/we all were. Simonsen had an awful season for the most part. He had one or two decent games (Coventry away, Reading away then I am struggling – I am sure there have been more) but mostly he was poor and it seemed like there would not be a few games go by without a mistake.
Indeed I would go as far to say around 20 goals should have been kept out by him (I am not going through them all but you can go right from opening day versus Cardiff when he was culpable to the final major gaffe against Bristol City; throw in major errors against Forest, Norwich (x2) and many other crosses he failed to take and the evidence does mount up against him).
He can be a decent shot stopper and sometimes showed this (a stunning save v Boro from recent memory) but overall too many shots also went past him. More than this it was his total lack of command of his area and from crosses/high balls that was the major weakness in his game. He seemed unable to take most crosses/corners no matter how deep they were played towards him and his inability to punch/catch was a fixture in goals we conceded. When he did finally come for crosses he was not strong at all and for a fairly big keeper seemed to shrink as he often got lost in bodies of players.
Simonsen has conceded 71 goals this season out of total United have conceded of 79 goals in comparison to 55 and 39 in the previous years. This tells a story. Of course the defence in front of Simonsen has been wretched with various combinations simply not working. Experienced players did not perform (Nosworthy, Collins) or were injured (Morgan) and it cannot have been easy knowing we were unlikely to score at the other end, thus magnifying every mistake he made. However, the defence starts with the goalkeeper and he has not commanded his box, nor led the defence at all.
For an experienced keeper he seems petrified and almost like a young keeper who has not played many games, thus pouring scorn on those who saw we could not have played a young keeper like Aksalu or Long. Whatever reasons for it, it seems Simonsen completely lost his confidence and really should have been replaced but as Wright came in and also struggled and then got injured; the managers kept changing and Simonsen kept getting picked as we simply had no one else as much of the below were either inexperienced or untested. It needed a brave manager to make a goalkeeping signing one of the first things on their agenda but for whatever reason it never happened.
Richard Wright came into provide competition to the stuttering Simonsen just before Gary Speed’s reign came to an end. He impressed initially in the reserve game against Wednesday and then he was given a start as Simonsen’s form did not improve. He played a half at Barnsley and a half at Burnley but was not particularly convincing and seemingly could not finish games as he limped off injured in both. It seemed odd that a goalkeeper could not finish games due to an injury and he then disappeared from the scene for the same reason. He was due to come back into first team contention but rightly his wage was jettisoned early from the payroll before the end of the season. He would not have been brought back anyway. Another poor signing that further squandered funds.
George Long had been on the bench for the first team a few times and then started in the final game at Swansea as he conceded four goals but also made quite a few saves as he was plunged into a difficult scenario. He looks a real prospect at only 17. I have seen him a few times for the Academy and he commands his box well, takes cross and seems to handle the ball well. He also has a good kick on him. I cannot see him being seen as the first team keeper for a season or two year as it is but hopefully he will come though and really push whoever the number one is next season.
Mikel Aksalu came in a few years ago but despite a good reputation in his homeland of Estonia, has not really pushed on and indeed even loan spells have not really worked out. He is not young either, 27 this year so the idea that he can progress and develop with us, is a little baffling. Surely if he was that good and was going to make it he would have by now and especially the last 2 years when we have had sucg such goalkeeping problems.
Lawrence Thomas came in on a short term deal but unsure quite where the Australian fits when we have the above 3 contracted for next season unless a few of them move on in the summer. It seemed another bizarre signing. Surely we would have been better signing an experienced stopper when Simonsen was struggling.
Player / PositionYears remaining (contract expires)
Steve Simonsen 1 year (2012)
Mikhel Aksalu 1 year (2012)
George Long (contract unknown)
We are probably stuck with Simonsen as he is under contract and no one will take him after this season. He will also be on fairly decent wages. The best for all parties would probably be if he was bought out and allowed to move on but that probably will not happen. I think we have to look at signing a new keeper as a priority in the summer. I cannot see how Simonsen can start next season as the number one after his wretched season but am unsure what we will do with him as of course Long is pushing and an ideal world he would be the backup not Simonsen. I know we have been linked with Stuart Tomlinson at Adams’ former club Port Vale but whether it is him or someone else I do think we will have to bring in another keeper to be the number one. As for the others; well I cannot see Thomas coming back as we won’t have the money to carry 3 or 4 keepers. Aksalu is under contract too but he may have to move on like Justin Haber before him. It is good that we have two young keepers in and around the England set ups in Long and also George Willis (England under 16’s). It has been a while since United produced a home grown goalkeeper so this is encouraging.
Chris Morgan was to be the bedrock which United built their season on yet again but he actually was a little out of sorts to start the season and with the remainder of the defence never being the same week in, week out; he seemed to struggle somewhat and actually made quite a few mistakes as both he and the Unite defence looked shaky. He actually was dropped for a few games late August/early September before coming back in and getting injured. He only returned for the Burnley home game but his form was still up and down. Still as a leader and captain he was surely to be a key man in our attempts to move up the league until he suffered an injury at the end of October. The severity of the injury meant he would be out for the entire season with cruciate knee ligament damage. His absence would be one of many nails in the coffin for United. After he went out United struggled even more and used so many different permutation in the centre of defence with none really having any real success. Morgan tried to beat the drum about United’s survival and was even briefly involved in the coaching when Carver was the caretaker manager; but he was helpless to prevent our slide. Many did feel Morgan was coming towards the last few years at this level and this injury could arguably speed up this thought but if Morgan come back even 60-70% the leader/player he was; he will still be an asset at league one. The fact is if he was fit we may not have gone down and even if we did; then surely like some of the other more experienced players he would have departed. Now recovering from injury he will be one of the few to stay around and fingers crossed he may be back to lead us out come August.
Andy Taylor had been criticised for his performances the previous season after he came in from the lower leagues and looked out of his depth. It was hard to see what Blackwell and his scouts had seen in him to justify spending cash on him and giving him a three year contract. He began the season back at left back with Gary Naysmith opting to take Huddersfield’s contract offer although Stephen Jordan came in to provide competition for Taylor. He did ok in the opening game at Cardiff but then was poor (along with the rest) against QPR and was dropped, when Gary Speed took over, in favour of Jordan. His replacement did not fare much better but Jordan and others; such as De Laet played in that position for the next few months and Taylor was mostly a substitute at best. He played once against Coventry but did not return until the Xmas period for a run of 3 games. He had a decent game against Swansea before sustaining a serious injury against Hull on Boxing Day in a block challenge as he went to shoot. He came off with serious knee injury affecting his anterior cruciate ligament and we never saw him again. Overall he ended up only starting 7 league games and we only won one of those games. It was a write off season really with poor performances overall in the games he played and then an injury keeping him out for the second half of the season. With only a season left on his contract and the fact that due to the injury he actually is unlikely to return until the later part of the year his future is very uncertain. Some have said he is harshly criticised but to be honest I am not sure he is good enough as he gives his winger too much room, gets in bad positions, seems to have little football brain/awareness and makes too many mistakes. Going forward at times he has been neat and tidy and occasionally put in some good crosses but first and foremost he is a defender and he struggles to master the basics needed for a solid full back. The only positive for him is I currently do not see another left back on the books.
Matthew Lowton has been one of the few bright spots of this season. He has been asked to play in all sorts of positions and for much of the season was in and out for various reasons with some mangers liking him and others unsure. By the end of the season he finished as probably our strongest performer in the last 2 or 3 months. His season began well in that he was picked after impressed in pre season to start at Cardiff but was then sent off; a little harshly, in the first half and was a substitute for most of the games when his suspension elapsed. He came on in midfield and scored in a comeback draw against Burnley and then eventually got back in at right back for a series of games around November. Speed took him out of the team just before he took the Wales job and then after a poor performance where he was run ragged by Chris Eagles at Burnley in Adams’ first game; he was once again out of the team. He did not return until Palace but since then he has been pretty much ever present and although he has been moved from right back to left back to centre half and even spells in midfield, he has got better and better. Decent on the ball, good going forward and a decent finisher he has shown he deserves to be in the first team. He is excellent in the air for his size and always wants to be positive when he gets on the ball. Be good if he can command a regular position (probably right back) and for a youngster he has been messed about quite a bit this season. Hopefully now so long as nobody comes in for him (and has proven he is a competent Championship performer) then hopefully he can be one of the building blocks for the future.
Johannes Ertl.Ertl came in from Palace where he had been a steady utility man if nothing spectacular. His signing seemed odd as we already had players already like him in the squad but he was reckoned to be a cover player for defence and midfield. He began at Cardiff playing really well at centre half but then at right back against QPR he was awful and his lack of pace and mobility clear to see. He then operated in midfield for many of the games after this but was always picked despite some up and down performances and I believe he was an ever present up to the Ipswich game in early November when he dropped to the bench. He did a steady job but he did not get forward much and was not able to offer much more than others were already offering such as Montgomery. Also with Britton seemingly better playing just in front of the back four; meant we had many players that were much of a muchness and who preferred to operate in the same role. He was out of the side for a while being mainly a substitute and then he only came back into the team at centre back due to injuries around the new year time. He had a few steady-ish games in this position but also showed again his lack of pace and quicker, more mobile players caused him problems. Once again he was in and out of the team before he suffered an injury in the reserves around mid March and was ruled out for the rest of the season. Overall, he was not awful when he played but to be frank he was quite ordinary and was another player that was moved round different positions. He seemed better at centre back than midfield but then with the lack of pace around the rest of the team this weakness was exposed even more. He has a year left on his contract and I suppose is a useful player to have around who can play a number of positions but sadly he is not really reliable enough to play consistently well in one position for a number of games going by the evidence we have seen. He was symbolic of many of Blackwell’s signings that were steady enough but usually lacked pace, technique, flair and ability to change/save games.
Kyle Bartley was brought back after a fairly successful loan spell the previous season where he had shown some promise and although he was raw he had some natural ability and his physique suggested he could be a success. He was injured at the start of the season but came in at Middlesboro and then played a run of games at centre back. His performances were mixed as he carried on from the previous season; showing his ability with the ball at times but maybe also being guilty of switching off in key defensive moments with poor concentration. He went out of the team with an injury briefly before coming back in to stay in the team from the Coventry home game right up to the Norwich away defeat. When Adams came in he was suspended but played four successive games before the end of January. At the end of this month with the transfer window closing he was recalled or deepening who you believe allowed to move to Rangers on loan from his parent club, Arsenal. It seemed an odd one as he had been one of our better defenders I felt and was an ever present when fit. He made mistakes and at times was too lackadaisical. He also maybe was not consistent enough but overall despite this I still felt he was one of our better defenders and it was not helped by the fact we constantly were changing things around at the back. Chris Morgan’s injury also did not help his development. Adams said at the time: "We wanted to bring in another centre-half and Kyle felt it would maybe hinder his selection and wanted to leave. If people want to leave the club, I'm not going to stand in their way." This disappointed me even before I knew it was Neil Collins bring brought in as it sounds as if Adams preferred another centre back and did not fancy Bartley or at least convince him he would be part of his plans. If Adams had brought in a better player than fair enough but that was not the case. He was not brilliant but was still as good if not better than the hotch potch line ups we kept fielding at the back from after he left. In the circumstances I would have liked us to have tried harder to have kept him personally. Despite this I am unsure if he will ever go on and be a top quality Premiership defender or even play at that level and his performances at Rangers were mixed before he picked up a ligament injury which curtailed the loan.
Nyron Nosworthy, like Steve Simonsen, has been decent for the most part in his loan at the end of the 09/10 season and most United fans were glad he was brought back judging by many fan’s reactions on message boards etc. Sure he was prone to errors and at times overplayed but he had put in more good performances than bad ones and showed his experience. On his return he was reckoned to compete alongside Kyle Bartley to play centre back alongside Chris Morgan and of course could occasionally play right back; which was not really his best position. He was injured when we started the season but played in Gary Speed’s first game and began his campaign at right back. He then played centre back when Morgan was out of the team before partnering him again before the skipper got his season ending injury. After this he mainly played at centre back for the next few months under Speed with a number of really poor performances and defensive howlers. Two mistakes at home to Hull that led directly to goals were an example of his poor form and he made countless other errors or tried to over play. In Adams’ opening game he was poor again and then decided to give a two fingered salute to fans when he left at half time before being substituted due to injury. He did apologise to the fans after the game but the damage had been done for many as much for his performances as the gesture. He came back into the team at Palace but he is form remained patchy to say the least as he mainly now operated at right back. He did have one or two decent games showing smatterings of the form we had seen the previous season but after another run of defeats his loan was terminated allowing us to play younger players in the run in. We did improve after he left and clearly for all his experience his performances for the most part this season were not good enough. He can defend well at times and has athleticism, decent speed over a distance and can read the game really well. He made some horrific decisions on the ball and often took too many touches when a simple clearance would have sufficed. He also somehow managed to head the ball at impossible angles when it looked impossible to put it where he did! Difficult to know where is future lies as he has another season at Sunderland under contract but actually proved he was not good/consistent enough for the Championship this season. He provided plenty of entertainment this season but sadly not much of it was of a positive note.
Stephen Jordan was brought in after he had looked set to sign for Portsmouth in pre season after leaving Burnley. He had shown promise in his early days at Man City but now his career seemed to have stalled. United offered him a one year deal seeing they needed some competition at left back. He came in against Preston and did fairly well and was in the team for the next month or so but his performances were mixed and he, like Taylor, before him was poor positionally and did not seem to get tight enough to his man or be alert to danger. He then was dropped before picking up an injury when he returned. This seemed to be the pattern for much of the rest of the season as he would play a few games, then maybe get injured or be taken out due to poor performances and then return and the same would happen. Remember one wretched mistake at Leeds which led to the winning goal. He only actually played 14 games in total and from December onwards only started 2 games before being released in early April. Another signing that was a total failure and when he did play he did not really look up to it often being part of a defence (with others) that threw away goal after goal. He had a decent left foot but again like many others we signed seemed to think he was better than he actually was when all we wanted was someone to do the basics. Unsure what his future holds now he has been released by two Championship teams in successive seasons and will probably have to start again down the leagues but he is now 29.
Ritchie De Laet was brought in from Manchester United and played 4 games on loan. He actually did not look too bad in general play and was decent on the ball, getting up and down the flank well. However whilst he showed some undoubted ability he actually made some poor mistakes in the games he played. At Leeds he was partly to blame (mainly Jordan in the build up) for their man being allowed to cross, against Burnley he gave away a poor penalty and then was also culpable in a goal at Doncaster. Another who has ability like others I have mentioned but poor concentration and basic defending cost him badly. Went to Preston on loan after he left us and then has been at Portsmouth for the final few months of the season. Another loan that did not really come off.
Jean Calve’s spell at the Lane was really quite mixed but he did not live up to the promise he initially showed. He was a trialist (from Nancy) under Kevin Blackwell but was not signed going to Blackpool on trial soon after before Gary Speed came in and opted to sign him. Had a sensational start with a wonder goal and good performance to win the game versus Preston and then assisted on a goal at Derby the following week. He remained in the team at right back for the next few months but his attacking abilities (good shot and always tried to get crosses in) were not backed up by his defending. He was physically weak and also another who switched off at key times. I felt teams would often target him down that side and begin to realise he could be got at. He was taken out of the team and then was in and out for the final weeks of Speed’s spell in charge. He started against Burnley but clearly did not impress Adams and did not play another game for United with only a few substitute appearances as he picked up a few injuries to boot. He basically did not feature after the New Year and his loan was terminated before the end of the season. Seemed promising when he came in but was not strong/physical enough for English football and unfortunately despite the flashes in his opening games his ability on the ball was not that good that it would counteract the weaknesses and he was one that I think Adams got right in not playing.
Rob Kozluk was a bizarre signing when he was brought back to the club on a 1 year deal after a trial period. He was always a ‘character’ around the dressing room and did a decent job for a long time when he was here the first time but was released because his best days were behind him. So to bring him back when a club lower in the league than us released him was baffling really and seemed another waste of funds/resources. Could our scouts not find any young players better than this or did they not feel some of our young players could be a better option? He was mostly a substitute when involved and indeed for much of Speed’s tenure was not even on the bench. When Adams came in with United having a lot of injuries and suspensions he actually started his only league game of the season; I think at left back and amazingly scored deep into stoppage time to salvage a point with a great finish. He played against Villa in the cup but was poor and then did not start again returning to the bench for the remainder of the season coming on for a few brief cameos. He last left the club when we got relegated from the top flight and now he leaves again when we go into league one. He has been a great servant and I can’t blame him for coming back (it was others who signed him!) for one last hurray. I am sure there is a place for somewhere in league two for a final contract even at 34.
Ellian Parrino was signed from Estudiantes at the end of September on a season long loan after he played against us in a friendly game at the Lane in the pre season. He was on the bench once in Speed’s spell as manager but then came on at Burnley when we had injuries in Adams’ first game. He then started against Doncaster at right back and stayed in the side for 8 consecutive games at this position. He showed some ability on the ball and was able to get forward again and also attacked the ball better than say Calve, a player who had played there previously. He actually had one or two good efforts on goal too when he did get forward. However, he was another who physically perhaps was not strong enough and also gave his man too much time and space. He still seemed to have some promise considering he is only 22 but the team were struggling and he was dropped before he suffered an injury which I think has kept him out for the rest of the season. I do not think we will sign him due to the obvious cut backs after we had previously seemed interested but on reflection he maybe did not quite do enough despite some decent promise at times.
Shane Lowry was one of Adams’ loan signings and was brought in from Villa and remained with us from the draw at Coventry right until the end of the season. He was one of the better loan players (not too difficult!) and his no nonsense approach endeared him to many fans as he actually put his foot and head in at times to protect the defence. He was a bit ale house but in a strange way I liked that as he showed some commitment we had not seen before in this area and where we had routinely given away soft goals. Technically not the best and at times he would revert to the punt forward. He also was another guilty of ill discipline with some bad fouls, yellow cards and also a silly red card at Scunthorpe and another at Swansea. Still, I felt he did ok overall and despite some mistakes (maybe he tailed off towards the end of the season) he was one of the better defenders we had. However, this was not difficult when you run through some of the players I have detailed so far! Will we sign him? Probably not. With Morgan hopefully coming back and Maguire coming through they probably simply cannot afford to sign someone who will be on decent wages as he has another year left at Villa.
Joe Mattock was another loan signing Adams made in an attempt to shore up the defence. He was out of the reckoning completely at West Brom after they signed him for decent money from Leicester but at 20 is still thought to have a big future. He did not really convince in his spell at the Lane and was another left back that was probably better going forward than defending. For fear of repeating myself (sorry) he was another that gave his winger too much time and seemed to simply; disappear from his position at key times! Completely one footed to the point where he would never use his right foot. He has a decent left foot and got a few crosses in that caused problems in his spell but he routinely made daft mistakes throughout his loan and I cannot really recall one game where I can say he played well in.
Neil Collins was a signing that was an odd one as he was completely out of the picture at Leeds. He was a defender that had not really impressed me when I had seen him previously (even going back to his loan at the Lane 5 years previously) and had suddenly become a bit of a journeyman (not usually a good sign when you are only 27) moving around quite a few clubs. Adams opted to let Bartley move on and plugged Lowry and Collins into the back four. He made his debut at Ipswich as we got battered 3-0 and was involved in the side that went 8 games without a win from this point onwards often looking clumsy, ponderous, immobile and also strangely weak for someone so big. He made some poor mistakes in games that led directly to goals and looked a really poor and strange signing. It may seem I am picking on him but going through the games I can recall goals at Palace away; did not close the ball, Scunthorpe away; at fault for at least 2 goals including the key penalty that brought them back into it, Forest home; Adebola turned him easily; Watford; possibly at fault for all 3 goals at least 2; Middlesboro; poor defensive header. Maybe I am exaggerating but it got to the point where if we did concede often he was involved in it through not picking up or a poor mistake. Evidently he had s strong second half at Reading when we won but most games he played in he was 5/10 at best I think. It is astonishing that we signed him on a 2 and a half year deal and despite us not having the funds to make many signings; this was a real misuse of funds and now we are stuck with him for the foreseeable future.
Harry Maguire first came to my prominence when I saw him a few years ago in a pre season youth tournament televised in Ireland and I recall his size/command for one so young. I resolved to keep an eye out for him but only saw him in person for the first time in the Academy this year when he impressed in the few games I saw. He clearly had an unbelievable physique for someone of his age (only just 18) and was impressive in the youth cup run to the final of the competition. He maybe lacked a bit in pace what I had seen but I liked the way he always tried to pass the ball and brought it out from the defence. He was given a taste of the first team as an unused substitute against Leeds and then came on at half time against Cardiff and impressed with his no nonsense attitude against internationals Bellamy and Bothroyd. He then played at Preston and did well continuing to attack the ball at every opportunity before continuing to impress against Bristol City until an unfortunate sending off after a poor ball from Montgomery. Maguire then was unfortunate again when a slip against Barnsley led to a goal. However, despite this he has shown real promise in the games he has played and will definitely be one we can build around (assuming we don’t receive any offers for him) for the future.
Danny Batth came in from Wolves on loan but only came on for a few minutes strangely as a striker when we beat Swansea! He was recalled not long after he came in and then ended up going to Wednesday for a spell later in the season.
Phil Roe was an unused substitute for the league cup game and then at Reading at the end of the season.
Connor Brown was reckoned to be a promising right back but got a bad injury and only returned at the end of the season to reserve team football.
Terry Kennedy has partnered Maguire in the centre of the defence at the Academy and also looks promising and made his debut coming on at Swansea for the final half hour.
Marc Warren came in from Australian football and Seamus Connelly arrived from the League of Ireland at the same time as teammate David McAllister but whilst both have been regulars in the reserves they have yet to make their league bow with Warren being an unused sub a Swansea.
Player / Position Years remaining (contract expires)
Chris Morgan 2 years (2013)
Neil Collins 2 years (2013)
Johannes Ertl 1 year (2012)
Matthew Lowton 1 year (2012)
Andy Taylor 1 year (2012)
Harry Maguire (contract unknown)
Seamus Connelly 1 year (2012)
Marc Warren 1.5 years (Jan - 2013)
Phil Roe (contract unknown)
Connor Brown (contract unknown)
Terry Kennedy (contract unknown)
Hopefully Morgan can return from injury and solidify the defence but it is a major injury and I am unsure even if we will be fit for the start of the season. Young players Lowton and Maguire will definitely be involved and probably start the season I would reckon. Taylor is out injured and Ertl is another coming back from a bad injury but neither are players that I would want as regular starters even at league two and both have fitness concerns anyway. Sadly it may be a case of needs must. The rest here are young players who may not be ready yet but then again they may have to be used. I would love to say we need this player and that player but with the financial demands I am unsure who/how many we can bring in. In an ideal world we definitely need a left back and maybe another centre back with some pace but unsure whether that will happen. If we could start the season with Morgan, Maguire, Lowton and A N other and sign one or two back ups that would be creditable to say the least at League One level.
Nick Montgomery began the season after signing a new three year deal when it seemed for all the world like he would be heading for pastures new. Most Blades were happy with his pointing to his reliability and his all action box to box tackling, covering and breaking up of play but there were a number who sighed feeling his lack of calmness and ability in possession was as more of a hindrance. He began the season much like the team with a mixed bag of performances as United struggled nearer the bottom than top. He started the first 11 games but then was dropped when Speed preferred to try Ertl and Britton for a period feeling they were essentially all to similar as defensive midfielders or players who were better operating just in front of the back four.
It did seem like Britton’s signing created a quandary as he was not the attacking midfielder many Blades first envisaged. He did have a few injuries and niggles but returned to the side around early November as we actually put 2 back to back wins together but to injury and suspension he did not seem to put together a consistent run of games even when Adams came in. He played a run from Doncaster at home until Millwall but then was out injured again before only returning for the run in starting with Forest with his return helping us win 4 out of 8 games.
I felt he was one of our more consistent players for much of the season but it has been a stop-start season due to injury in the main and whilst in the past he has usually been an ever present almost he did miss around a dozen games at different times. His passing at times actually showed an improvement and he had one or two decent games in possession of the ball but much of the season he was still wasteful in this area showing his lack of ability on the football. His running, covering and effort was second to none again and at times he carried the fight and embarrassed some of his teammates for their lack of effort. Of course some claim it is sometimes misguided but he can never be accused of hiding and often when we needed a block, tackle or interception in the middle of the field invariably it would be him providing it. Whether he is ever going to be more than what he is currently is debatable when he is 30 this year. However, what he is offers more positives than negatives and if United could one day surround him with the right players (or another club as it may transpire) he could me even more effective.
He is a solid Championship player who if United do have to move on due to wages will command some offers; of that I am sure. I may have criticised him in reports this season but I think we have always had a better chance of winning when he had played and the stats bear this out to some degree in that he has started every game we have won (ok he has started a lot more that we have lost but this still gives an indication of his importance). If he goes then he does with my good wishes and I am sure many United fans, like me, will actually be sad to see him go. Those who criticise him may have salient points but he is the sort of player we would need to scrap out of the division below and when you look at players such as Doyle who has started for a Champ club for many years, you kind of see how underrated Monty actually is.
Stephen Quinn had an odd season in that the early stages of the season he was not really at it and actually became a target for some of the fans (with others). He was another who had signed a new contract on better wages and many fans feel he was coasting through games earlier in the season. He was quickly dropped after Blackwell left and was on the bench for a period for Speed’s early games. He returned for a lengthy spell back in the team from early October but again his performances were inconsistent to say the least. One decent game would be followed by a poor performance as he moved invariably between left hand side and central midfield. He continued his annoying habit of flicking the ball first time to no one in particular and was often on the floor too many times for no reason in particular. Many United fans also became annoyed with his body language and habits, such as continually holding his head when something went awry!
He got sent off at Norwich for a daft incident (maybe a little harsh but daft all the same to put your head towards someone) but after he came back into the team when Adams had took over his form gradually improved and he began to become one of our most consistent players. He had a run of excellent games and was suddenly one of our most committed, positive and creative threats. Indeed in many of the home games in the run in he was the player we looked to in making things happen. He suddenly passed the ball more consistently, looked to get on the ball and became more of a 90 minute player (often tired out by the hour in previous seasons). He had turned the opinion of the fans around after a poor start to the season to the extent where many now will be very disappointed if he leaves. Maybe he was playing for a move and knew he had to pick his form up but if he can play like he did in the final 2-3 months then he can be an asset for most clubs at this level and sadly it maybe he is another that may invite offers and have to be sacrificed. Whatever happens he has to be more consistent and show his undoubted ability (actually a very intelligent footballer at times) and get more assists/goals (only 1 this season which is really poor for a fairly attacking midfielder) than he has achieved so far in his career. He could be a solid Championship player at the very least for the next 5-8 years (still only 25) if he can maintain his form latterly.
Leon Britton signing was a real surprise and was a seen as a bit of a coup when we secured him on a bosman from Swansea beating off supposed competition from Wigan and Middlesboro amongst others. Many felt he would be the creative piece we had been missing and felt he could prove the link that previous signings Harper and Howard had not. He created a goal at QPR on the opening day of the season and then was very good in some of the early home games such as Preston and Portsmouth.
However, it was clear he was not the sort of player we had envisaged and after beginning the season in an attacking role was put back to the holding position that had made him a success at Swansea. Here he could pick up the ball and allow us to play whilst helping protect the backline too. He was in affect the link between midfield and defence. It worked for a while and in some games he did well. Still as the season progressed his form deteriorated at the same time as the Blades’ form and he actually struggled to get involved with matches sometimes passing him by in the same way it had for Howard and Harper previously. Maybe it was the coaching or maybe he was not as good as we had been promised? Whatever reason he bent off the boil after early promise and his actual ball retention was not as good as it should be for a supposed ‘ball’ player.
He was dropped for the Watford game but returned the next game for a run but watching Doncaster’s midfield completely dominate and out pass and out play him (and our other midfielders) was eye opening. He remained in the team but this was probably due to the fact we had little else to call upon and his performances were very up and down. I don’t think he hid but I don’t think he contributed enough either and the struggles the team had affected him as much as anyone. He played in Adams first game at Burnley but along with a few others (Lowton, Calve, Wright, Nosworthy) could not have impressed and was taken out of the team immediately. He played against Villa and then came on at Coventry but then on the eve of the transfer deadline it was still a shock when he moved back to Swansea.
It seemed an odd episode all round as whilst he had not started his United career as well as he would have hoped, it had been a difficult season for many, not just him. He had signed a three year contract and whilst his start was disappointing he was a decent footballer who I thought with the right system and tactics could improve. Sadly he had only shown smatterings of ability and often played the ball sideways or backwards and I cannot remember many goals he created and he did not score one goal (granted that was is not his strength) or have many efforts on goal. When he moved it was stated it had been a mistake and that the move had not worked out which was true to some degree but it did seem (like with Bartley, Ward, Calve etc) that Adams made his mind up very quickly and did not exactly fight hard to keep Britton (he was under contract after all) stating if he was not happy he could move on (once again this only came out after Adams came and then dropped him). I am not saying he was the answer but again like with Bartley we did not replace him with an improved player (Doyle) and whilst he had probably been a disappointment we may have fared better by retaining him. All conjecture and we would never know but overall the move and what happened was all another move that for one reason or other simply did not work out. He has been in and out of the team at Swansea and will now take part in the end of season playoffs.
Andy Reid was the type of loan signing that Gary Speed clearly wanted to sign but due to financial restraints and players not being available it was a struggle until he finally got someone in of real quality who could make a difference. Reid clearly was a proven performer who maybe had lost his way; at least in a Premiership sense; but surely would stand out at this level and so it proved. He instantly made an impact against Coventry when he came on and showed his passing and shooting ability. He then was influential in away games at Leicester and Millwall with a winning goal in the second game; superbly executed. In games to come he showed his creativity and whilst his less than maintained physique (some would say fat!) did not allow him to move around the pitch much he did not need to as he rarely wasted a ball and could pass short and long. At times he probably shot too much and sometimes always wanted to play the killer ball but when it came off it usually led to a chance or even a goal. The defence splitting pass against Swansea to Evans a casing point. He scored at Norwich with an excellent free kick but was then suspended for head butting an opponent (again stupid ill discipline from an experienced player) and we never saw him again as he returned to Sunderland. He eventually went to Blackpool permanently but he has not been a regular there and it seems he might not have the energy levels or consistency to be effective at the highest level. This is a shame as his ability is clearly there for all to see and shows why he has earned big money moves previously. Maybe he may end up back in the Championship with the Tangerines or another side next season but it is clear that for a brief period he offered us something we did not have for much of the season; vision, touch, passing and goal scoring ability from midfield.
Michael Doyle was a signing from Coventry after they released him allowing him to join up with former manager Adams once again. He was a player I barely remembered from previous games which was not a good sign! He was seen as a defensive midfielder that was not easy on the eye but workmanlike and who did a solid enough job for his previous side without being spectacular. It was an odd signing considering we already had Montgomery, Ertl etc in the squad. He began playing in midfield with Montgomery against Leicester and actually had a few shots on goal which surprised some fans that were not used to that! However, the subsequent games he played saw some unremarkable performances where our central midfield often got outplayed and outworked. He started 15 in a row up to the Preston defeat which was bizarre as he seemed to get worse and we kept losing but he like Collins (and a few others to be fair) kept starting. Doyle seemed to offer little in terms of tackling (not that mobile or fast) and rarely got on the ball. When he did pass it; his ability to keep it was mixed. In short it seemed like we had signed a poor man’s Montgomery! Some fans said he was being harshly treated and that he had done ok but ok was not enough when we needed goals and wins. With us conceding them by the bucket load at the other end it was difficult to see what he was offering in that sense. He did play well against Leeds as we dominated the midfield but this was a rare good outing and eventually probably too late he was taken out of the team as Adams shuffled his pack playing some youngsters and fringe players. We then saw some goals from McAllister and Williamson and definite improvements with more balance in this area of the pitch. He is here for another 2 years which means with Monty and Quinn probably going he will be involved next season but he has to improve and offer more than we have seen. If he can replicate the Leeds display on a consistent level he could be an asset but at the moment he seems another I would rather we move on but we will probably have to keep him due to no one wanting the likes of him and Collins!
Lee Williamson season was a bit of a write off once again. To be fair he had been seriously injured to the point of nearly losing his life the previous summer and he only came back around Christmas time. However, his form was patchy when he did return as he alternated between central midfield and left side. He was substituted in the games he did start or was on the bench for many of Adam’s early games. He then got sent off stupidly for dissent at Ipswich when the game was already lost and then he was booked in a further two games when he returned before getting sent off at Watford, again for a daft challenge. Williamson then got back on the team and actually finally showed some consistent form with three consecutive goals in games against Bristol City, Reading and Barnsley. Williamson was able to get ahead of strikers and into the box and also showed his ability to take the ball forward and take shots. Williamson on his day can be an excellent midfielder who can support the attack, cover a lot of ground and has a nice range of passing. However these days have been few and far between due to inconsistent form in some cases but mostly due to injuries and suspensions. I think he will remain due to these reasons putting off any potential suitors and next season is a big one. He should stand out at League One and easily should score 10 goals+ and be a key part of our team with his set play delivery (inconsistent too but at times very effective) and his engine. The main thing is he needs to play a full season with few games missed through injury/suspension.
Mark Yeates is another player that was woefully inconsistent. He was a substitute for the opening 8 league games before only getting a start against Notts Forest. He managed to keep his place for a spell and was actually excellent in games against Burnley and Forest, scoring 2 excellent goals and being our most creative player. He also scored 2 goals at Leicester in the draw and it seemed Speed saw him as someone who could change games and impact on us positively. He was still frustrating at times with some excellent crosses mixed with some wasteful balls. His penchant for avoiding physical contact was a feature of his game and defenders realised that if they tackled him hard and early it would affect the rest of his performance. Still he was one of the few players who would take a shot and would also sometimes go at his man and try and make things happen. When Adams came in he scored at Burnley to give us the lead but then not long after found himself out of the team and back on the bench. He started a couple of home games against Millwall and Reading but was poor in both of these and never started again making a few more cameos as substitute until disappearing completely from the squad for the final 6 games. Rumours of a bust up with the manager and even worse alleged breaches of discipline were sighted as the alleged reasons for his removal from the squad. It seems he is one that Adams would like to move on and it might be best for all parties if he does leave. At times he has been promising but all too often he has failed to deliver and rarely put a spell of effective games together. His career seems to be drifting away and he will become a journeyman at best if he does not show some determination and consistency to match some of the talent he does possess.
Bjorn Arne Riise came in from Fulham on loan and after coming on and impressing as a substitute against Reading; he started 4 straight games from Palace to Pompey, in 4 defeats. In many of these games he was our best player as he showed creativity, quick feet, crossing ability and generally a touch of class on the football. He was certainly one of the few bright spots as United’s season was suddenly going south fast. He got an injury that kept him out of games but he came on as a substitute and scored a neat goal against Leeds. He was then one of our better players against Middlesboro and Cardiff in two defeats before he missed an absolute sitter when the game was scoreless at Deepdale. This moment basically turned his game and it was a defeat that pretty much sealed relegation. He featured in some of the remaining games but his performances trailed off as he was probably thinking of his next career move as he returned to Craven Cottage. Overall despite a few quiet games and that miss; he was one of our standout players in the run in and always seemed to make time on the ball. Like Andy Reid, you could see why he had earned a move to the top flight but like Reid you could see the inconsistency and lack of fitness/mobility that has stopped him being a regular there.
David McAllister was brought in from Irish football; alongside compatriot Seamus Connelly. McAllister was used straight away in the cup game against Villa due to a plethora of injuries but then he played most of the remainder of the season in the reserves. He finally got a first team call up right at the end of the season when he started against Bristol City. He was most impressive with a superb long range goal and he could have easily registered a hat trick with his willingness to shoot and accuracy from range. He looked neat and tidy and whilst he struggled with the pace of the game by the latter stages of the second half; he showed enough promise to suggest even at 22 that he could be a player that features strongly next season. He got an injury that meant he only had one further substitute appearance in the final three games but is one that may be pushing for the first team at the start of the next campaign with doubts lingering over the futures of Quinn and Montgomery.
Kingsley James (18 years of age) and Jordan Chapell (19 years of age) both played at Hartlepool in the league cup and were regulars in reserve football
for much of the season. Perhaps neither have quite pushed on as much as they would have liked and with others from the Academy/Development Squad such as McAllister, Harriott, Tonne and Whitehouse probably looking more likely of the first team it is hard to see them breaking through but maybe they might get a chance with senior players leaving.
Matt Harriott (18 years of age) was impressive the couple of Academy games I saw after arriving from Luton’s set up and stood out for his range of passing and composure on the ball. Harriott’s physical appearance and game reminded me of a young Curtis Woodhouse and he certainly would always look to get on the ball and make things happen. Harriott came on a late substitute in the derby draw at home to Doncaster and at Swansea. He was a substitute on a couple of other occasions. He has continued to shine in the juniors Youth Cup run and looks one for the future.
4 young players arrived (Warren mentioned already) from overseas in February as part of the newly termed development squad. Erik Tonne (19 years of age) is a Norwegian player who has been drawing rave reviews for his performances in the reserves as an attacking midfielder. He has even managed to force his way onto the bench and had a few cameo appearances at the end of games towards the end of the season. Andras Gardos (20 years of age) came from Ferencvaros and has featured for the reserves alongside Kristoffer Lokberg (19 years of age) who is another Norwegian that signed after a trial and has recently featured for the Norwegian under 19 squad.
Ryan France was a player that did not play a game with injury after injury keeping him out. Latest reports suggest he may struggle to play football again but we have heard nothing from the club. He is out of contract at the end of the season and if he does play league football it will not be with us. He was signed from under the noses of local rivals Wednesday by Kevin Blackwell but other than a smattering of games before Xmas in the 2009/10 season he has been another poor signing that has seen him spent most of his contract on the treatment table.
Player / Position Years remaining (contract expires)
Nick Montgomery 2 years (2013)
Stephen Quinn 2 years (2013)
Mark Yeates 1 year (2012)
Lee Williamson 1 year (2012)
Michael Doyle 2 years (2013)
David McAllister 1 year (2012)
Matt Harriott (contract unknown)
Jordan Chapell 1 year (2012)
Andras Gardos 1 year (2012)
Kristoffer Lokberg 1 year (2012)
Erik Tonne (contract unknown)
The midfield area is one that like much of the rest of the team has so many questions with mainstays like Montgomery and Quinn real doubts over whether they will return. Certainly if we receive bids for either they will move on and I would be surprised if they are back at the Lane next season. Both can still be creditable Championship players. Yeates is another that will be moved on or a contract settlement made I would expect. Williamson is one that I think will remain due to his history of injuries and I am afraid Doyle will be around too. The rest are all younger players with McAllister and Tonne maybe the two who may be thrust into the first team squad on a regular basis. The others may play a larger role depending on how they move develop and who does actually leave. We may have to bring in some experience in this area but hopefully if Adams is around then the signings will have more of an impact than Doyle. One things is clear as well is that we need some wide players as whilst the likes of Quinn and then Williamson did ok in these areas at times; if the former moves along with Yeates we effectively have no wide men in the squad that I am aware of.
Ched Evans had a disappointing first season on the whole after a big money move from Manchester City. Debate still rages what he actually cost with figures going from £750,000 to 3 million. Whatever it was it is certain the wages that Evans was given were certainly fairly hefty and the total outlay was to borrow a phrase from Mr McCabe when describing the sum spent to acquire him was ‘significant.’ He began his season well but only finished with a measly 4 goals and often flattered to deceive as his football brain and positional sense was sadly lacking. Evans knew this season was a big one and he definitely had an improved campaign if still displaying certain inconsistencies in his game. He began with a goal at Cardiff and looked sharp in the early games. He registered a vital free kick against Portsmouth to win a game but the goals dried up again and he had spells out through injury and also loss of form. He did not score again until a purple patch of 5 goals in 7 games around Christmas including a winner against Swansea and a well taken brace against Hull. He had showed strong running, got into better areas and generally perhaps more than anything had put in some real shifts for the team showing effort and desire missing the previous season. For the final few months of the season his form dropped off as he suffered numerous injuries again that made things rather stop-start. Whenever he came back he picked up another knock and only scored one goal in the final 4 months of the season in the defeat at Scunthorpe. It was a disappointing end to the season when for long spells he had been maybe our best player and one of the few to come out of the season with any credit. The critics will say 9 goals is still not enough and that he still does not quite do enough for the side to justify whatever money has been parlayed on him. He is one player that has improved and looks more like the player we thought we had signed but overall maybe he has been a touch disappointing over the 2 seasons we have had him. He will almost certainly move on due to financial needs and I expect him to remain with a club in the Championship. It will be interesting to see if he can take his undoubted potential (still only 22) on and be more far more consistent over the course of a season at his new club.
Richard Cresswell like Nosworthy and Simonsen had done very well in his temporary spells at the club and actually had been signed on a permanent deal before the end of the previous season. He had scored 14 goals in a relatively short amount of time and after doubts over his signing initially turned United fans’ opinions around with his work rate and ability to get in the box and get goals. However it still raised eyebrows when he signed a three year contract especially when he had already turned 33 years of age in the summer. Maybe a one year or two year deal as a reward for his performances but three?! Cresswell then went on and has had an awful season in the main. He only scored 5 goals (significantly down on last season) and generally looked slow, immobile and past his best. He looked a player that’s best days were behind him. He tried hard and did not hide but games often passed him by due to his lack of pace and stamina (often seemed shattered by the hour mark). He did not win as many headers as he did the previous seasons and whether he played wide left (for the most part) or up front (as he asked to be played) he was equally disappointing. He remained in the team under Speed despite a run of poor games throughout his tenure and seemed to be ‘undroppable’ despite offering little to the team. He remained in the team when Adams came in but then was finally dropped for the run in of games and his disappearance (along with others such as Collins/Doyle) resulted in some improved results and performances. With another 2 years on decent wages combined with a really poor season; he is one that will not invite offers and will be around next season. I feel with hungrier and even younger players at the lower level he may struggle even more and it is no good having experience if your legs have completely gone, as seems to be the case with Cresswell. I hope he can somehow lift himself to at least be a contributor next season but like some of the others mentioned, Yeats, Collins, Doyle, Bogdanovic it would be ideal if he could somehow be moved on.
Darius Henderson injury was expected to keep him out for a few months but this quickly turned into most of the season and despite his critics it was clear we missed the big target man. He had always offered goals; hold up play and a nuisance factor despite his poor disciplinary record and inconsistency. He was supposed to come back just after Christmas, then it seemed like he would never return but finally he made a surprise return at Watford in mid March. His impact was instant; a red card after barely half an hour! You could argue the decisions but he put himself in bad positions and makes himself an easy target for referees. It was an awful return and had many of his detractors reaching for their keyboards/phones to complain in various forums. He came back at QPR but was poor and then missed a hatful of chances against Middlesboro including a shocking miss at the Kop end with the game at 1-1. He then finally hit the net against Bristol City and Reading with three goals contributing to three wins. His performances were certainly mixed but the goals and threat he possesses showed that if we had a fit Henderson all season we would have been in a stronger position I feel. He has missed some shocking chances and his annoying tendency to always want to wrestle with his opponent means he often does not get his share of decisions. Once again despite the criticism he receives he is a solid Championship striker who will always score goals (probably always get a few red cards every season too!) and be the sort of players most clubs at this level would like to have. His honesty on twitter has at least confirmed he does care about the club and realises his shortcomings but he will probably move on too and I do not think we will have any problems offloading him due to the reasons mentioned. If we could somehow keep him he would score 20+ goals at league one and be a focal point for our attack (we played less long ball when he was in the team than before he did return in my opinion) and cause real havoc.
Daniel Bogdanovic was a signing that was rumoured all summer with the Maltese link up and after he was linked with a few other clubs he finally was confirmed as a Blades player on a 2 year contract. He certainly had moved about quite a bit playing in his homeland, Italy, Bulgaria and seemingly never staying at a club for than a couple of seasons. Also, at 31 could not be necessarily seen as one for the future. It did seem the sponsorship with Malta did have something to do with it and he did not seem a Blackwell type player at all. He began the season on the bench and even when he came on did not exactly ‘bust a gut’ to win a starting spot. He finally got a start against Forest at the end of September and then scored in a draw with Burnley and showed some lovely touches and intelligent football brain. He lacked pace and he seemed immune to any kind of physical contact which was bizarre for such a tall guy. His heading ability also was poor and it was clear he could not hold the ball up nor run onto balls. He needed the ball played to his feet/chest to be effective and his languid style earned him the name of the poor man’s Berbatov amongst some United fans! Despite him never totally convincing for much of the season; he still showed some offensive talent that the Blades lacked; namely that he could put the ball in the net and win and score penalties. He won and scored three kicks against Palace, Millwall and Reading to help us earn rare points but seemed more effective when he came off the bench. His ability to induce challenges and win free kicks and penalties was one of our better tactics down the stretch run of the season. However, he lost his place again and was in and out of the team for the final months until he disappeared completely and it seemed he was another that fell out of favour in the last few weeks. He rarely played more than a couple of games as a starter and his record of playing 12 games with 20 as substitute; featuring 5 goals was not an impressive return considering his exploits at Barnsley the previous season. More damning was the fact there was only one league game that I believe that he actually started and finished (played full 90 minutes) the whole season. I do not see him being part of Adams’ plans if the manager remains and he will be probably have to move on (maybe back overseas where his style may be better suited). I cannot see how he can be much of a factor amidst the hurly/burly physical nature of League One. He should have the class and touch to stand out at either league but he does not seem to have the desire or consistency to be able to do this other than for fleeting spells which is simply not enough for any team.
Jamie Ward was another player that seemed to have lost his way and after a superb start to his United career and start to the 2009/10 season he got a bad injury against Wednesday and seemed to never get back to fitness nor form after this for the remainder of the season. Ward began the season on the right hand side of midfield and played most of the opening games but was very inconsistent seeming to lack that pace/zip that had made him such a threat when he first signed. He then was in and out of the side from October to Xmas with a stupid red card at Leeds, few more niggling injuries and poor form seeing him never really a regular again. Under Adams he played the first 4 games and scored a penalty in the cup against Villa. He then allegedly had a disagreement with the new management team and it seemed from Adams’ comments that Ward had not been putting in the effort or showing the professionalism required. Soon after he was loaned to Derby and it seems almost certain he will move there permanently this summer. He has done ok at Derby but got sent off again and also missed quite a few chances amongst a few goals too. A player that looked really promising when he joined but now at 25 he really needs to push on if he wants to be a decent player in the top two divisions and avoid dropping back down the leagues; probably for good. I do think he has lost elements of the pace that made him such a threat and that he is more effective up front than wide right but he is another who seems to think he is better than he is. Whilst we can argue he could have been a factor in the run in and that players that came in (such as Bent) were even worse; he had not shown enough this season to suggest that he would have scored or made many goals.
Marcus Bentreturned to the club 10 years after he left it and with a huge number of clubs on his CV. Bent was currently contracted at Birmingham until the summer but Adams felt Bent’s experience could be invaluable in the run in. Sadly, despite a decent performance against Norwich in his debut, Bent was withdrawn in the next 3 games and any further appearances were on the bench. He looked disinterested, lazy and his touch was pretty awful. Overall he looked another player that is basically ‘done’ and despite stating he wanted to earn a contract at the Lane he did nothing to suggest he warranted any kind of deal barely registering an effort of note on goal and unable to really contribute anything of note. The fact he was jeered on/off the pitch in his later performances said it all. His disastrous loan was mercifully ended by the club before the end of the season. I am unsure if he even has the desire to go and play lower league football next season as that will be the best he can really achieve and I think he may pack up altogether being now 33.
Sam Vokes played 4 league games for the club and after a so-so debut against Reading he picked up an injury and did not return until a few substitute appearances against Derby and Portsmouth. He had a couple of decent games in the home wins against Forest and Leeds with a neat finish in Adams’ first win and then a committed, hard working effort against Leeds. However just as he seemed to be settling in he was ‘allowed’ to return to Wolves who clearly had the chances to loan him to a better side, Norwich where he would get a better experience of football. He actually barely played for the Canaries before Wolves have recalled him for their own run in and has been on the bench for Wanderers. He is a very well built forward who despite not actually being that great in the air for his size, has a decent touch and works hard for the team. He is only 21 and has plenty of time to develop his game. Whether that is at Wolves will probably depend if they go down or not. If they stay up he may have to go out on loan to the Championship again next season to get games and more experience.
Jordan Slew had shown promise in the Academy scoring a lot of goals earlier in the season. I had seen him a few times for the youth team and reserves and felt he was miles off the first team lacking the strength, physique and know how. Clearly he a great deal of pace and also had good movement and an eye for a finish. He had a few sub appearances at Doncaster and in the Cup game against Villa before after impressing further in the Youth Cup run he was given his bow against Preston and marked his first full start with a nearly taken goal. He impressed in the next game against Bristol City with his enthusiasm, movement and then his superb winner past former England keeper David James. There was actually signs of some sort of partnership with Darius Henderson and it show the likes of myself were probably wrong and that maybe he was ready to play for the first team. I still maintain he has a lot of work to do and is probably a bit off being a regular first team starter. He needs to get much, much stronger over the summer months (shame we cannot send him on a building site – worked for Tony Currie!) and work on his first touch/decision making but his rare pace and finishing means we may have something to work with. At only 18 he has plenty of time to progress and develop. I am sure he will be in and around the first team squad next season but hope we don’t put too much pressure on him and can bring him along slowly.
Daniel Philliskirk has also featured after he came in on loan from Chelsea and has signed a contract for next season. He played wide at Preston and then came on up front at Swansea but unsure whether he is a striker or wide man. He went from Oldham to Chelsea for significant money for a teenager but has probably found it hard to get any kind of opening at Stamford Bridge and it is inevitable he would move on. Hopefully he can be a factor next season.
Player / Position Years remaining (contract expires)
Richard Cresswell 2 years (2013)
Ched Evans 1 year (2012)
Darius Henderson 1 year (2012)
Daniel Bogdanovic 1 year (2012)
Jordan Slew 1 year (2012)
Daniel Philliskirk (contract unknown)
All the strikers are under contract for next season but I think Evans and Henderson will move on. Certainly Evans is a certainty with only his large wages and his recent ankle injury being stumbling blocks to his inevitable transfer. Henderson also will probably leave due to his wage and hopefully both can bring in ‘some’ funds in terms of fees no matter how small (clubs will know we are desperate to move them on so won’t offer much). That leaves us with Bogdanovic who seems out of favour and another I think United would like to move on realising it was another poor signing. Then we have two strikers at both ends of the spectrum in Cresswell who seems to be finished pretty much and then Slew who is a talented youngster but not ready to be a regular starter yet in my opinion. Philliskirk is one player who we know little about but may contend immediately due to the players that will move on. If 3 or 4 move on (including Ward and Bogdanovic) ; then like the other areas of the team we will need some newcomers and some experienced players who can score goals and held to develop and supplement the youngsters.