Friday, 7 August 2015

Hope, Positivity and Filling the Onion Bag

Pre-season seems to have come and gone pretty quickly this summer. For various reasons, all good, I haven't seen the Blades so far. My first viewing of New Nigel's Blades will be at Bramall Lane for the Chesterfield game. On that basis I can't comment on the pre-season performances, so here are some thoughts as United prepare to travel to Gillingham.

The Squad

As it stands the squad is over sized and remains imbalanced, the former a result of Clough's pile 'em high policy, particularly with midfielders, rather than any fault of the new manager.

Having said that I (as did many) felt that the manager should have addressed the stark problem of last season, central defence. There's still time to get the right man but I would have thought it fair to assume it was a priority and that we wouldn't be in the final countdown to the opening game with no additions in this area.

You would also imagine there will be a number of players moved on and youngsters sent out on loan to pick up experience. The squad numbers issued today listed 33 players, by any stretch that is 7/8 too many and it doesn't include one or two youngsters who have made first team appearances in the last couple of seasons.

Some interesting additions to the squad have cost nothing, as players out in the cold under Clough find opportunities under Adkins. Whatever your view of Neill Collins you can be certain we wouldn't have conceded as many goals last season if he had been given a chance and a prolonged run in the team. It would have reduced the chopping and changing of the back four, removed a square peg from a round hole and added a constant to the defence. 

Also in defence Callum McFadzean must have assumed his Blades career was fading away, as criminal charges and subsequent loan spells away from the Lane suggested he didn't match Clough's expectations in terms of attitude and behaviour. Repeated pre season opportunities at left back in Bob Harris's absence suggest McFadzean has a chance of establishing himself at United, a chance he must have feared gone 4 months ago.

Then there's Diego. So much faith and hope placed in a young player with just 9 first team starts. We have seen brief glimpses of his capabilities, however if everyone who has raved about his academy performances had actually been there United could have made a fortune charging for admission at Shirecliffe. A new start under a new manager will tell us whether the hype is justified. To blame a relationship with one manager can be understood, to not breakthrough under the tutelage of two different managers would suggest a more deep rooted problem.

The signings made, all from the Championship, add strength and depth in forward positions and will hopefully improve both attacking threat and finishing off chances. Whilst defensive frailties rose to the fore last season, the inability to kill games off and a lack of commitment to attack teams was equally as costly.


Adkins set up pre-season has been positive with 4-4-2 usually deployed and with United's attacking options added to pre-season, few, if any, managers in League 1 face the selection dilemma that Nigel faces this season. Whilst the front two and wide options seem quite simple I'm sure; Sharp and Sammon, Murphy and Adams for me, the options to move players around and shake things up are varied. Adams, Murphy, along with Done and De Girolamo can play wide or central, with Woolford, Flynn and Campbell-Ryce further options on the flanks. Higdon and McNulty offer alternatives to Sammon and Sharp.

Most comments I've read have been enthused by the incisiveness of our attacking play. The movement on and off the ball, from full back to ball nestling in the net as Adams scored his first goal at Macclesfield was a joy to watch.

In an interview early in pre-season, the new boss hinted at his mantra for the season. Quoting statistics around the goals scored and conceded by promoted  sides. 86 is the target he said, a target that should be achievable by an enhanced forward line playing with renewed freedom. Yet a note of caution is worthwhile. 

Last September Adkins issued a similar rallying cry at Reading where he had augmented their attacking resources with three new signings.

Adkins was gone by Christmas and the team, albeit under Steve Clarke watch for the remainder of the season, scored just 48 goals.


It oozes from every statement, interview and tweet emanating from the club. Adkins is renowned for his player motivation, he is the man-manager and whilst things are good we will take the sound-bites and clich├ęs. The danger is how well received it will be if/when things get tough and if the results don't follow as planned.

The hash tag #unitedtogether is regularly used. In a way it wasn't needed on Adkins' appointment as it was a rare moment of fan unity behind a club decision. Even those doubting the sense in sacking Clough could get behind this appointment. Signings have been questioned, inactivity queried, but for now we have to trust and follow the hash tag.

Attack, Attack, Attack

All the talk is of attacking football. There is acknowledgement that last season was too restrained and cautious. From players to chairman the messages have been the same. Jamie Murphy has mentioned his excitement at the shackles coming off. Chairman Jim Phipps offered the following thought in response to a Facebook query regarding season ticket sales.
"What we are trying to create is the most conducive environment possible in which to stage a serious promotion push. The home atmosphere is key to this. We already know we have the league's best away following. We also have its best home following. Now we need to turn it up at the Lane. 

I think the positive style of play will help and the emphasis on putting balls in the back of the onion bag will create excitement. We want visiting clubs though to feel the heat when they come to our house. Last year we kind of laid out the welcome mat, mainly perhaps because we seemed too often to be playing for a point."

This, quite public criticism of Clough's approach is telling and perhaps highlights why he eventually left Bramall Lane this summer. A negative approach and start to go is season would have had a much deeper impact than just results and the board had to reinstate the feelgood factor seen in the cup runs and the league form at the end of huge season before last.


I am not sure that tweeting Jim or Nigel to tell them that, in your humble opinion, McEveley is awful will do little to change their mind. Stomping your feet on forums because you "demanded" two centre backs and the manager hasn't signed them is similarly futile. I would have liked to see the back four strengthened by now and there is still time to get the right players in, but as mentioned previously Adkins clearly sees certain players in a different light to Clough.

Players thrive under one manager and not another, as they respond better to different relationships and different motivational methodology. On the playing side they fit into systems and pairing with certain players in partnerships engender better understanding and team play. It is also worth remembering that McEveley played the latter part of the season with a shoulder injury.

Whilst I understand that there are still concerns about frailties after pre-season, we will be facing much different opposition to Hull and Newcastle. With a more positive approach and a willingness to go at teams that Clough restrained, maybe the pressure will be eased on the defence and all will benefit?


This remains a bone of contention. I suspect a fit John Brayford would have been captain, but in his absence we lack any sort of on-pitch leadership, dominance and voice. The testimonial match for Chris Morgan only served as a reminder that we have lacked a commanding leader since his injury enforced retirement and the relegation that left us in League One might well not have happened had he remained fit.

The choice of McEveley has caused anger and frustration, more due to the fact that many do not view him as a first choice defender, never mind captain. And again I am not sure tweeting him directly to tell him this is sensible. In this instance I am prepared to trust the manager. He has observed the players, he knows what he wants and expects, let's see how it pans out. 

It would seem he expects leaders to show themselves in different roles on a pitch and there are many managers who see a captain these days as a symbolic role, rather than a responsibility of one man alone.


When asked by When Saturday Comes magazine "How will you do?" my answer was as follows.

"I said it last season and was proved wrong but automatic promotion should be achievable and we have a manager in place who knows how to get out of this division. Another season in League 1 is is unthinkable,although I said that 12 months ago too."

This was written before the signings of Sharp and Sammon and their arrival only strengthens my belief. We have a squad that only Wigan's can compare with and a manager I wouldn't swap for any other in the division. I think we might see some Vindaloo football, a few goals "and we're gonna score one more than you" but that will be enough. I have seen many contemplating, with an air of depression, going to Gillingham and conceding, but I just don't see going there and losing. And that is all that matters over the course of a season. I just hope that we remain #unitedtogether through the blips.

Up the Blades!

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