Billy Sharp 30 goals the previous season but still many, including United fans wondered if he could cope with this level at his age now. He had scored goals here before but the division seemed to have got much better in terms of pace, power and level of defender. Still, Sharp began the campaign as captain and United did not really bring in new strikers that would properly challenge (if you take away Evans and then later Donaldson). He started with a winner at home to Brentford and then after missing a few chances at Cardiff scored in games against Barnsley and at home to Derby and already had 4 goals to begin the season and our first 4 goals (not including the Derby own goal) we scored back at this level. Our reliance on him still was clear to see. He got an injury and missed a run of games but got back in to score at Leeds and then at home to Reading; both poachers goals. He was rested for some games even when scoring but scored two at Burton and had 8 goals mid-November. As United’s form tailed off, so did Sharp’s form. He was then rotated in and out as Donaldson played with Clarke for a period and then Wilson came in.
He was surprisingly not used against Wednesday at the Lane and that will have hurt him to not feature especially as he did so well against Leeds as he showed when he scored a tremendous volley and a penalty winner to complete the league double. He got another double at Reading but then had an off spell again and missed some big chances at Brentford and was back out of the side around Easter. He ended up sub in some of the crucial games and you feel he could have been used more perhaps as Donaldson and Wilson and even Brooks at times; continued to flatter to deceive (do very little!).
Many felt he would struggle with his lack of pace and athletic ability but he knows where the net is and has always been a good finisher – he maybe should have had more than the 13 goals he got. At times he played well and looked hungry but as daft as it sounds his partnership with Clarke still did not always work as a collective – at times it did; even though they scored a lot of goals really and one of most effective partnerships in the league for goals scored. Other games he looked slow and quite weak and looked for fouls or was not a factor. At times he looked quite old and got outmuscled in games we struggled. He would keep surprising by coming back and showing signs of life – testament to how much he cared about United.
His future next season has some uncertainty even as the second leading scorer. He did not finish as a regular. He is still club captain but you wonder if he will play even less. I would not begrudge him say a move to the States or something similar. Not sure he would want to play for anyone else now other than United in the UK – he has reached the peak of his career and had so many special moments over the last few years. Been a great servant and a leader – the stuff he does in the community and the way he comes across shows him a blade, a family man but someone who knows what it is like to be a fan. A really down to earth decent bloke who loves the Blades. I would not want him to leave due to falling out with Wilder or becoming frustrated. I would not be averse to him being around for another year even if not a regular but whether he wants to do that I am not sure. Whatever happens in the next 12 months (can’t imagine Sharp being here after that being honest); it is great at the third time of asking he proved himself; and then some; at the Lane.
Grade B- (Last season A)
Clayton Donaldson A player I always liked but he was clearly not quite as quick and dangerous as he had been and Birmingham were quite happy to release him. He came in when we had a few injuries and made an instant impact with a great double v Sunderland. After this he pulled his hamstring and then was not back for a while. Saw him at Forest and at QPR and he was non-existent really and was then back on the bench but came in and scored 2 against Villa and helped us get a vital point stopping a bad run. He played some games but was mostly sub. He nearly scored versus Wednesday and then did score a week later at Norwich but this was his last goal. After this he was mainly a sub although started at Fulham when Clarke was injured. He came on at Brentford and versus Cardiff and missed some glorious chances; two one on ones at Griffin Park and then hit the post from point blank range in the game on Easter Monday at the Lane; if he scores that then we would have won that game. He was really poor at Birmingham in a crucial game.
Seemed to always play better away than at home; maybe being able to run off defenders with more space suits him more where as teams at home play more defenders and go forward less so less space. Bit hit and miss at times. His touch was erratic and sometimes made poor decisions with the ball but then would surprise you with some quality. He did his best but think if we had a bit more quality than him and Wilson off the bench or as back-ups we may have got more goals and more points. He is out of contract this summer. I personally would not bring him back. He is 34 now and not sure he would want to stay as someone who rarely plays. At League One level he would score a hatful I feel as still has enough about him. Seems another really decent bloke so hope he can find a local-ish club- maybe Bradford or Doncaster – as he is a Yorkshire lad.
*Stop Press – released as of 11th May 2018. Not a surprise really as stated above and the right move for me.
]Grade C (Last season NA)
Leon Clarke Clarke had a late resurgence in the season after a so so first year at the Lane and scored some vital goals but no one thought he would have that much of an impact at the higher level and many fans from rival clubs laughed at the thought of him being a key player. He had a slow start but then his first goals for the season came at Hillsborough and he got another 2 a few days later; again versus another former club in Wolves. This set him off and the spell where he scored 10 goals in 5 games in November-into December was remarkable. He showed pace, power and led the line. He looked like Ronaldo at times (the older one!) as defences could not cope with his power. He showed some great skill and all of a sudden seemed to show pace I never quite thought he had. He was on fire and suddenly other clubs such as Villa were being linked with him and we had to get him tied down on a new contract. He looked superb and had the lot. Showed some real skill, some cool finishing and looked so powerful. Defences were struggling with him. He held it up and a real talisman. He looked the complete striker. His work ethic was incredible. I never thought he had in him that kind of determination as he chased defenders all over. It was a massive turnaround from the Clarke I had seen but was more than effort; it was everything on and off the ball.
It was remarkable as him and Sharp were the leading scoring partnership in the league. It was hard to see it lasting and it did not. He picked up a few niggling injuries and lost his form and went 3 months without scoring but he always seemed to be the first-choice striker picked due to his size, hold up play no matter. His confidence started to wane and he had some poor games and missed a few games with injuries etc but Wilder never properly took him out of the team. He started to look quite languid and started to sulk a bit for me. I felt he was struggling and missed some big chances in games that he had to bury. More than this though the effort and team ethic was just left lacking at this vital stage of the season. As the Easter period came he finally got back in the goals scoring v Cardiff and played much better in this game. He scored then at Barnsley in a mixed game and then he was poor at home to Boro at fault for their goal and missing a sitter. His performances became up and down but he scored again v Millwall and then you could see how much we missed him at Birmingham. He ended with a goal at Bristol and finished with 19 goals.
Named in the PFA team of the year. If you had said that at the start of the season; I would have thought you insane. Overall, a really good season and a huge surprise.
Grade B+ (Last season B-)
Ched Evans Evans came back amidst a great deal of controversy. Some were delighted feeling he was now an innocent man and had unfinished business at the Lane. They pointed to his impressive showing v the Blades for Chesterfield and his power and shooting. Others felt he had been too unfit and barely featured for the Spireites and a shadow of the player before his imprisonment. His pre-season was stop start due to fitness and he was only given his first outing really when he came on and made a real difference in the comeback League cup win at home to Walsall, helping set up two goals. After this he was only a sub at best with a rare league appearance against Norwich where he looked well off the pace. It was agreed he needed an operation and he was out for a while only coming back at the turn of the year. He was mostly an unused sub but did play in the league game at Ipswich but was quite rusty again. He did not even make the bench in many of the games in the run in and seemed behind Clarke, Brooks, Sharp, Donaldson and Wilson. He simply has never got fully fit and if he was fit towards the end in the glimpses he had did not really look sharp enough at this level looking quite slow and his touch poor. The signing has not really worked at all yet and he has another 2 years left on his contract. I think we need to be in the market for much better. One option is to loan him out to a League One club for 3 months at the start of next season and hope he finds form and fitness – not scored a goal for well over a year. The other is we cut our losses and release him – we would not get a fee for him. I would not really be that bothered if we did the latter. He has not shown enough. Wilson got pelters for his loan spell but Evans was as bad in the games he played – it is only his previous spell that has fans somehow hoping he will get back to near that level. That was over 6 years ago and the reality is he is not the same player and we are also playing at a higher level.
Grade E (Last season NA)
James Hanson Was criticised by some even in the run in last year but his signing was important. Sure, he only scored one goal but his presence took the weight off Sharp and others shoulders and I felt helped us turn things around after a poor spell where we struggled. He was very good in two home games against Bolton and Scunthorpe. I felt that he did well in many games despite never looking like scoring and have us something different. Clarke got back in and did well and you felt he would be an occasional sub at best at this level and so it proved as other strikers came in and then other one cup game v Walsall and a late cameo where he did well v Fulham and nearly scored; he was never really involved.
A few teams were linked with him and he nearly went to Scunthorpe at the end of August but we failed to sign a striker and so he stayed. He eventually went to Bury and his time here he fared no better at the Lane but at the bottom of League One as the Shakers went down. He could not even get in the starting line up and was used as a sub mainly. Has one more year left and his spell at Bury will not have earned him many suitors. You feel it would be best if his contract is bought out to allow him to find a new club. Looks all the world a decent lower league target man at best and that he will be a bit of a journeyman to end his career now. Seems a decent guy who does his best but we have moved on from his type of player and need much better now.
*Stop Press – transfer listed as of 11th May 2018. Not a surprise really as stated above and the right move for me.
Grade E- (Last season B)
James Wilson Wilson had been previously prolific in Man Utd Academy and reserve sides but had picked up a number of injuries and this had curtailed his development. Had loan spells at Brighton and Derby but again picked up injuries and was not that consistent even at these clubs. He got back to scoring ways for the Man Utd u23 side this season and Wilder took him till the end of the season. Controversially came on in the Sheffield derby instead of Billy Sharp but he never really impressed in any of the games.
Had some bad luck with spectacular efforts v Villa at home and a long range shot at Ipswich just missing. Scored one goal at Carrow Road; but overall he had to do much more. Worryingly coasted through games and looked like someone who thought he was better than he was. His contract is up at Man Utd and not sure he has done enough to interest any Championship clubs and may have to go down the leagues and start working harder and scoring goals to move back up. Really disappointed with his overall attitude and body language. Expected him to really bust a gut but he did very little and games passed him by. Had a golden chance with the form dipping of some our strikers but did not take it. Not sure he impressed our management much and they quickly took him out of the team and he was barely involved due to his form and more nagging injuries.
Grade E+ (Last season NA)
Caolan Lavery Lavery’s career at the Blades like his career elsewhere had been too stop start with injuries and not quite consistently performing. He still played in 24 games but only started 12. He got a few crucial goals and at times his pace and running looked something we did have as an option but he too never established himself in the side. As we went up, we only signed Ched Evans and you felt there was an opportunity for him. Clarke started the season poorly and Lavery got in against Derby but got a bad facial injury and we never really saw him again. He went on loan to Rotherham but even here was not a regular and their fans; like ours; probably expected a bit more. He still has another year left on his contract but like with Hanson and Evans, you do not really see a future here for him and Wilder will surely allow him to move on if a team takes him. He will be 26 as the season starts next year too so not sure he is going to improve much now.
*Stop Press – transfer listed as of 11th May 2018. Not a surprise really as stated above and the right move for me.
Grade E+ (Last season C+)
Jake Wright Junior seemed to have been around for ages and whenever I watched the young United sides he always was there having an argument with the centre half! He is a really competitive player and sometimes this oversteps the mark as he gets quite a few bookings and been sent off a few times too. He has scored a fair few goals as he has been one of the mainstays of the u23 side. He works really hard and holds the ball up well. He is not really a run at them type player nor someone who will hurt teams with out and out pace or skill. He is more workmanlike and not sure he scores enough goals. He had a few loan spells at National League sides and then eventually after trials with Notts County amongst others; was allowed to leave and signed for Harrogate Town in the National League, North which is probably about his level. Still only 21 he has time to hopefully use some of his undoubted strengths and get back in the league.
Jordan Hallam continued to score goals at both u18 and u23 levels. A really clinical taker and maker of goals (takes free kicks/corners); he is not that fast nor tall but gets in good areas and is a decent footballer. He had a few loan deals and is now playing in Norway for Viking Stavanger which will be good experience and their season runs after ours too so gives him more game time. He was given another year. Like with Wright above, you feel he has to really push on now or he too may end up in the National League. There is definitely something there with Hallam though.
Tyler Smith one who had really pushed on but he had a bit of a mixed season. Scored a fair few goals again but he was maybe not as consistent in games as he needed to be. Quick, tricky and with an eye for goal he is a good team player but also can get beyond men. He has another year but another that needs to take that extra step. With us being a higher level now these sorts of players really have to show something to stand out and get longer deals.
Oliver Greaves scored a lot of goals for the u18’s and then the u23’s. Has played attacking midfield as well as forward. Picked up a bad injury bit the club saw enough to offer him a one-year pro deal.
Simeon Oure French striker who was in the u18’s and then played for the 23’s too. He also was given another year. Quick lad, who can play on the last line of defence.
Oddly we have two strikers that did well and scored 30 goals between them in Sharp and Clarke but you worry they will replicate good seasons and both are a year older. Outside of this this area looks bereft of talent, goals, pace and game changing options. We have a lot of deadwood that needs moving on. Lavery struggled to even make an impact at Rotherham and needs to be moved on. Ditto for Hanson who is clearly not up to this level (did not even make the team at Bury). Ched has another 2 years so may be harder to shift but he at the worst should be loaned out for a few months to a League One club. Everyone keeps saying he needs more time or change to get match fit; but he has been playing again for 2 years. I personally would move him on. It was a gamble that did not work. Also, Donaldson did ok but looked a tired, old player by seasons end and should not be retained. So if most of them move on – we are left with just Sharp and Clarke and then maybe Brooks who can play off one of them. We then do not have anyone else – young Tyler Smith is the only other option.
You feel we need at least 2 strikers in this area. Sharp will not be a regular – Clarke deserves another season and did well last year but we need some pace and youth up here. These 2 signings would cost us a lot of money to get the quality we need. We cannot sign more League 1 or 2 players really and need to push the boat out. If we do not then we may struggle for goals as I feel those two will not have anywhere near the same impact. Ideally, we need some legs up here and someone who can run at defenders or get in behind. I think Wilder knows that (tried to sign Sinclair) and the type of strikers he needs have to offer this ability to get defences turned and give us another option. Not the long ball but the chance to turn teams around rather than always having to pass, pass, pass and almost rely on the perfect goal. Not sure who is out there but I do feel Wilder may have to stop being so stubborn with his reliance on UK talent (granted it has worked so far). Most of the sides even top end Champ cast their net wider. Look at players Bristol City have signed (Kodija and Diehou) and many others such as Huddersfield have done similar in recent years. It may be cheaper to go down this route and I feel that is one thing Wilder may have to look at. If he could get an international striker and then a decent Prem striker on loan (someone that actually offers something and is hungry – unlike James Wilson) for a season; we have some real options up there. Currently the striking department is quite weak outside of Sharp and Clarke.
Player / Position Years remaining (contract expires)
Clayton Donaldson Out of contract (2018)
James Hanson 1 year (2019)
Caolan Lavery 1 year (2019)
Tyler Smith 1 year (2019)
Oliver Greaves 1 year (2019)
Simeon Oure 1 year (2019)
Billy Sharp 1 year (2019)
Jordan Hallam 1 year (2019)
Ched Evans 2 years (2020)
Leon Clarke 2 years (2020)
Return to loan club
James Wilson back to Manchester United (out of contract at Man Utd)
Deadbat's Season Review / School Report 2017-18 - Part Six