Thursday, 7 March 2013

Wilson's 100

With Saturday's 2-0 victory at Boundary Park, Danny Wilson reached a milestone many would have assumed he wouldn't reach; 100 games in charge of Sheffield United. Even after the spittle-flecked vitriol of the car park protest that greeted his appointment had passed, you felt that he was always one bad run from the fans turning on him; forcing the board into another managerial appointment after four different managers had taken the hot seat in the previous twelve months.
His first season, like many Blades campaigns, saw United reach the brink of success only for the fates to conspire against them. That may seem clichéd, but anyone looking back at the club's capitulation at the final hurdle surely could not judge it any other way. What has followed over the Summer was the ripping out of the heart of the playing squad; removing most of the creativity and a large proportion of the goal getting capability that took the club so close to a Championship return last season.
Much has been made of Wilson's second season syndrome, often highlighted by fans of his previous clubs. Yet second place, one point off the top suggests that this is not a season of failure. Yet frustrations are bubbling underneath the surface.
Other feedback received on Wilson's previous managerial posts point to a man who struggles to have a Plan B in place and an inability to make changes when required. The club's home form this season would point to a man who has struggled to find the right formula for success, whilst away from home it works a treat.
The pitch has been blamed for a reduction in the quality of passing and style of play, but really it is a lack of quality in the squad compared to last year. Kevin McDonald continues to pull the strings, but is increasingly crowded out by the opposition, without the movement around him to free up the play. How often do we see the full backs pushing on like last season? Shoring up the defence has in many ways weakened our attack.
Injuries have further hampered the team. In a team shorn of what little pace it had with Miller's long term injury, the sale of Blackman and shorter term absences for replacements Forte and Murphy we have appeared increasingly pedestrian and lacking guile. Too often we have resorted to aimless long ball from the back when ideas have been exhausted.
Whilst I don't necessarily agree with the boos that have greeted half time and full time in the recent 0-0 draw versus Leyton Orient, I can see why they happened. Much has been said about how much better our away support is and in terms of numbers, volume and positivity. Very few will come close to United on any of those scores outside of the Premier League. However, you are always going to get a more vocal negative minority at home.
The frustrated and angry may well travel away, but are such small in relative number to be drowned out and not acknowledged. Mere mutterings amongst a largely positive and raucous din. Take that similar percentage to a crowd anything up to ten times as big at Bramall Lane, where that positive noise isn't maintained for 90 minutes, the negativity is always going to appear louder, more vociferous and more widespread. A home record of W7 D7 L3 is always going to disappoint some of those who cannot travel away and can place a grey, negative veil over the overall position. It is all they have seen after all and they have seen few ideas from the manager as to how to change it in those matches.
To criticise elements of Wilson's managerial capabilities may seem churlish, given the unprecedented events of last season, the departure of 4 key players and the club's position of second in the league. After all he is, in effect, operating with one hand tied behind his back and the other let nowhere near the club wallet.
Other League 1 clubs might not see it that way, the relative size of the club and its attendances compared with those they are competing against, would suggest a wage bill that most other clubs in the division would dream about. And one or two Championship clubs as well. But that belies the real issues with the club's financial situation, one that a salary cap, however big, hides.
What has seemed odd at times are the contradictions in statements made by chairman and manager; especially with regards to comments regarding transfer funds. These perhaps show a manager willing to state his understanding of a situation even though the club might want to portray a rosier picture. It certainly contradicts those who suggest that McCabe's friendship with Wilson means the manager is a stooge for the owner.
Looking at the bigger picture we have to recognise that we are a League One team with a combination of League One players and a sprinkling of promising youth, whatever the size of our wage bill. There's a reason that the players in red and white stripes are playing for Sheffield United in League One, is that they have found their level. Although when we struggle to break down teams at home, or get out-passed by lower salaried opposition, at times playing neater football, it is too easy to forget that.
Fans and media alike point to 16 points picked up out of the last 18. In response others have pointed to 18 in the last 33. Statistics can generally prove whatever you want them to with a bit of manipulation. Wilson's overall record of W54  D28  L18  seems excellent on first look, but then there will always be those who point to the Draw column and say "that's too many" whilst ignoring a 54% win percentage.
That's the thing about being a Blade, you come to expect the worst. Over the years you play down your hopes, preparing to manage the disappointment, knowing it is inevitable. "They always let you down" - is the mantra for many Blades of  a certain age. Many see one bad performance as putting the promotion push at the brink of implosion. In tight games, a misplaced pass in a bright opening is "a rare opportunity to score gone". The negatives outweigh the positives, clouding your thinking, altering your perception.
In amongst the polarised opinion between the masses and minority, there is one thing we can say for certain. Danny Wilson will be judged on one fact and that will be achieving promotion at the end of the season. Anything else and the record that goes before it will be meaningless, rather like the 90 points we picked up last season. There will be some nice memories; of games both home and away, of goals and those moments you only get going to the match, but the end goal remains unattained.
Not gaining promotion this season cannot be contemplated; the impact would set the club and its finances back for years. At present, Danny Wilson has put the club in an excellent position to deliver on this, in testing circumstances. But, with a tightly packed group at the top of the division, it will be a test of nerve and know-how for manager, players and fans alike. I only hope that the previous experience holds us all  in good stead. And as fans, we need to forget the past. The past is meaningless. We just need a bit of belief. You never know they might go and surprise us for a change.

1 comment:

  1. as always, I love all your blog posts, photos, tweets. as a long exiled unitedite (living in NJ, USA for past 25 years), i find your thoughts the most rational and articulate of any on the web (and I do not include the partisan rants as part of your world); as someone that cannot attend games your insights provide a window on SUFC that are simply unavailable elsewhere. so thanks. My thoughts (fwiw): 1) can't believe you talk about last year without one reference to the jail-bird. with Ched, we go up automatically, without Ched, we inevitably fall at the final hurdle. nothing to do with danny imho. Club was doomed from the minute judge passed sentence. and by the way I have no problem with ched doing porridge 2) danny is in a no-win situation. ex-owl player, ex-owl manager will always have a tough road to hoe @ BDBL 3) the Bramall Lane boo-birds are always the first to jump down the neck of the players and the managers, perhaps more so than any other club I know. To this day, it is quite incomprehensible to me why they choose this route. It has never, and will never, help anybody, let alone the team 4) we are what we are. the times that I have been able to watch United on internet TV, we look like a league One team. anyone that thinks otherwise is delusional. I thought for a moment (the Shaun Miller-Nick Blackman moment) that we had the sheer class to stay at the top of the heap. one injury and one trade later, we are back to where we are. 5) having said all that, i do believe that we have the desire NOT to have what happend last year repeat itself. combined with the lack of quality around us, i say we get one of the top two spots come April 27th. here's hoping.

    ok enough..... just thought I would drop you a comment. forgive the rant. good to get it off my chest. COYRWW!