Collins was excellent in 2011/12 and one of the most consistent players. I felt he had a dip at the end of the year but was good in the playoffs. As this season started he was a little shaky at the start of the season but did score three goals including a vital one at Scunthorpe and he soon got back to the solid form he had shown. He picked up an injury and was out for a spell but we did ok without him with Hill filling in. He came back and we kept a number of clean sheets. Along with Maguire and Long behind him, we had a pretty solid defence most of the season aside from a few shocking away games later in the season (incidentally his man Lopez scored a hat trick and he was at fault for 2 goals v Portsmouth). He did start to slip off in form and awful mistakes v Crawley at home and letting in Wright Phillips cost us badly. He made a number of other ricks towards the end of the season and his solid form was not quite there.
He is a solid (ish) defender who heads and kicks the ball away. He is not a bad footballer actually but often struggles to clear ball other than straight our or even worryingly more towards our own goal rather than getting it further away down the line (even if kicking it out surely he can get it further away before it exits the field). He reads game fairly well and tries to come out of defence but his lack of pace and athleticism means quicker and more nimble players can cause him real problems.
He has been a decent servant to the club and been one of our more consistent players but that is on one of the worst United teams I have ever seen. That is the problem. He will always be remember as part of the team that went down, failed to come up and then failed to come up again in a shocking division. He is part of the losing mentality of this group and sadly you would not call him a winner. Inevitably when the games come to the end, his performances dip and errors creep in. I personally would not have given him another contract. He is now approaching 30 and is not going to improve. He is steady at this level and probably it is certainly not his fault we have not gone up again but I want my players in top form when we get to the end of the season not jittery as Collins often is, when it really matters.
Maguire overall had an excellent season in 2011/12; his first full season in football and surprised many he played so many games and was so consistent. He remained in the side this year and was ever present apart from 2 games he missed due to suspension (we failed to win either). Once again he was one of our better players. He also got more goals this time out (5) and contributed to a number of clean sheets and our excellent defensive record. He seemed even stronger physically and was very good at reading the game once again. He did make mistakes and at times was too nonchalant with the ball (Crawley at home for instance). He picked up some daft bookings and was crude at times (Brentford away – could have been sent off) but overall he was fairly consistent. He has improved certain parts of his game and no longer do big centre forwards bully him and he actually shows a lot of confidence that he will win his battle with the centre forward both challenges within the game and also the overall contest over 90 minutes.
He does try and go long too much and the Hollywood ball is over done which are a shame as when he uses the ball he can clearly pass it well.
His main weakness of course apart from overplaying at times is his lack of speed and the fact if he is turned he struggles to get back and this would be even more of an issue at a higher level and he would need someone with more pace/covering ability than Collins and McMahon at either side of him.
There is no doubt if he had a smidgeon more pace/mobility he would not be with us and someone would have snapped him up. I do believe he can play at a higher level (PFA selection/Player of Year etc confirms that) and would be ok in the Championship but unsure whether he could do it at the top level unless he had a lot of pace and cover around him. The difference between Lowton, Walker, Naughton, and Jagielka is they all had that speed and were great athletes. However whatever happens, Maguire is set to have a 15 + year career in the game as a very solid centre back who is a very good footballer for someone of his size/build. I think he may remain for a bit longer but again, like Long, he could still play higher than he currently is.
McMahon’s capture was reckoned to be a bit of a coup as he was well liked at ‘Boro. He was seen as an aggressive full back that attacked with intent and somewhat of a dead ball specialist. The season began and I have to say I was not that impressed with him and we realised how good Lowton actually was. He barely got over half way and was erratic in his defensive work. He was argumentative with the officials and committed silly fouls leading to a number of bookings totting up and two separate suspensions. He did improve around the Autumn and had some better games after Westlake had been brought in for a spell. His game at Crawley was his best as he scored two tremendous free kicks (followed up with one at Oxford) and he also scored via a deflection an important goal at Tranmere. In the games v Swindon and Brentford he hit the post 4 times but he also missed a crucial penalty. Overall I have to say I had expected better. Our defence was solid but I cannot say it was down to him and out of the 5 main players he was probably the weakest. Other than the spell of free kicks he had; he did not offer much going forward and in many games never got over half way. I would have no issue with this if his defensive work was so solid but he did make mistakes and was sloppy at times. We have him another season so I expect he will remain at right back but it is not an area of the side I feel entirely secure with. Sadly there are many more even more of concern and with no funds/lack of depth and his potential replacement Westlake no better, will remain in the side
Westlake came in from Walsall where he had not even been a regular at the Bescot and was seen as someone who could develop and a prospect. The reaction of Walsall fans should have concerned us when we signed him and when McMahon arrived soon after, it was clear he may not be a regular just yet and only had a few games early on including a bizarre one in midfield where he looked out of his depth. He had a spell of games in the side around November with some success and showed he got forward more than McMahon. He was perhaps harshly left out at Brentford after a decent game the week before but after this he never really played much other than the odd game. He got back in more at the end of the season as McMahon was suspended and then injured but never totally convinced. He never really actually did that much when he did advance but many fans seemed happy that he at least offered us some width and a different dimension where a full back got above the winger. Sadly he looked pretty hopeless at times defensively with some poor positional play and inability to get tight enough on the winger. His control and touch was never the best and I was always concerned when the ball went towards him that he actually did not have the poise let alone ability to even do the basics. Cannot see that he is ever going to really make it much higher than the lower division for me. He does not look like someone that is going to improve as things like touch, intelligence and positioning is often down to instinct and football smarts as much as coaching.
Hill was a bit of a scapegoat when he came to the club and did offer up some pretty abject shows but slowly became fairly consistent and ended the campaign really well. He had a shocker at Huish Park where he was at fault for both goals). I was not that disappointed he was brought back as I felt for this level for a defensive full back he was as efficient as you would get. So it proved as he put in a really consistent season and I am surprised he did not get any mention or awards in the player of the season categories. He played almost every game and whilst predominantly left back, featured at centre back and also right back. He did not make many mistakes and rarely got beat by the winger. The negatives are clear but he knows his limitations. He barely goes forward and offers little as an attacking threat but first and foremost he is a defender and does that well. His passing and balls down the line can be poor and sometimes he seems to hit aimless balls high into the sky under little pressure. He is not a cultured footballer and can be a bit agricultural but I repeat he is a defender. His strengths are just as clear. He rarely is second to the ball, decent in the air for a small (ish) guy and a good tackler/reader of the game. He was often always there to mop up by coming inside or just would get there first and clears the ball. He is the sort of player that if we went up his weaknesses would be exposed even more (and would have to be replaced) but I feel he cannot really be blamed for our late season capitulation again. He was a steady 7/10 most of the season but then had an utter mare at Yeovil in the most important game of the season.
There is little good to say about the signing of Williams. He had been quite poor in the games he played the previous year and seemed an odd signing considering at that time we had Jean Francois too. He was in and out but Francois remained at left back much of the time. When Hill came in, he lost his place and never really got it back. He played more on the left side of midfield and some horror games where the offensively challenged pair of him and Hill played will scar many Blades in the two side stands who had to watch this ‘link up.’ I will say I recall one game where he was one of our better players (was it Donny?) but that just escapes him a ‘U’ (unclassified) in my mark! He seemed to have a fall out with Wilson and was never even part of the squad for much of the rest of the season. Sadly he has another year on his contract and no one will want him so he will be stuck behind the scenes for another year as I cannot see a new manager suddenly taking to him. Another ludicrous decision but the club (Wilson wanted him and the board approved it) to give him a 3 year contract.
Came in just after Xmas when we had a number of injuries and suspensions and played at Doncaster with a reshuffled defence. He seemed on the surface a decent signing that had played most of his career at a higher level and although on downward peak would still have know how and ability to play a number of positions. It never worked out that way. He could play a few positions but sadly played most of them equally badly! Lacking pace, he was also very poor in possession of the ball and seemed to panic often when under pressure for such an experienced player. I cannot remember many good games he had sadly and whilst at the time it seemed a decent cover player, it was another drain on wages and a player we did not need as the defence was not the issue and this money could have been used on a better attacking player.
Jean Francois Lescinel Francois came back after 8 months out when he played at Nott’s County after a few reserve games but he picked up another injury and this was to his other knee and he was then out again for a period. This short period turned into a longer one and then it was revealed he had more cruciate problems too. It was to put him out for the season and would mean he had played 10 minutes in around 15 months of his Blades career. He is out of contract at the end of the season and it would be financial suicide to keep him on as I fear whether he actually may ever play again anywhere after two such serious injuries.
Terry Kennedy: Kennedy has not really pushed out as much as I would have hoped. Whilst his centre back partner Maguire has gone on to be a real success, Kennedy had a number of injuries and in the last 2 seasons has never threatened to be a first team regular. He has captained the under 21’s and been in and around the squad but only played once, at Doncaster and did not really totally convince and it is unclear whether he will ever make it here. Still young but his contract is up and you would think if he was going to come through here it would have happened by now in such a poor side. He is maybe a bit small and also not that quick nor strong to make it at centre back so may need to move down the league or just get some regular football at say conference level before he kicks on again.
Aaron Barry Never really impressed me when I have seen him for the Academy or Reserves (usually at right back) but he has been on the bench a few times this season, particularly at the end. Another out of contract that I expect to depart.
Next season Maguire, Collins, McMahon and Hill are all under contract and with United remaining in this league, I expect that defence barring injuries will begin the campaign. On one hand that is fine as the defence was very solid and the strong part of our team. However it is still an area that does not convince me despite the clean sheets etc. We will lose Higginbotham and some of the youngsters so will need some depth but I also feel we need to be looking for a centre back to put real pressure on Collins and two full backs the same (Hill and McMahon are steady but you could not keep them if we went up so surely we need to be planning for the future and do we need more in at least one of those positions from an attacking point of view).
Player / Position Years remaining (contract expires)
Neil Collins2 years (2015)
Harry Maguire2 years (2015)
Tony McMahon1 year (2014)
Darryl Westlake1 year (2014)
Matt Hill1 year (2014)
Marcus Williams 1 year (2014)
Danny Higginbotham Out of contract (2013)
Jean Francois Lecsinel Out of contract (2013)
Aaron Barry Out of contract (2013)
Terry Kennedy Out of contract (2013)