Blades-Mad Season Review: 2011-12 (Part Three)
Updated Saturday, 16th June 2012
Deadbat_DB reviews the Blades 2011-12 League One season. In Part Three he reviews the men behind Sheffield United, starting with the board and manager Danny Wilson.
Kevin McCabe My thoughts on McCabe and the board differ a little to last year. He was much maligned after what had happened the previous season after we had gone thought 3 managers (all pretty disastrous ones at that) and relied on loans again (After saying we would not) and failed to bring in any kind of investment. The move to bring in Trevor Birch had been an expensive mistake as he oversaw a shocking spell and failed to bring in any new money. His forays into foreign lands had not brought any benefits to SUFC and he generally oversaw as owner an awful spell in which we had plummeted down two divisions, managed to squander funds badly, appoint bad manager after bad manager and sell any kind of decent young talent.
As for this season well he made a bold move (and it seemed it was his move with Birch, Robinson etc out of the picture) appointing Wilson and you have to say it worked. Yes, I know we did not go up but we finished with a massive points tally and played some lovely football at times. For once maybe he made the right call. He also did not sell Montgomery, Evans, Williamson, Lowton, Maguire etc when maybe he could have done. He allowed some big earners to stay (of course we will never know how many bids were made). He did give Wilson the opportunity to bring others in and whilst the signings were a mixed bag, you could not say he did not get the chance to bring re-enforcements in. It was hardly his fault the likes of Beattie, Porter, Hoskins, O’Halloran did not pay off. If we had signed say Antonio rather than Beattie, there is no question we would be promoted and I would hazard a guess our man was on much higher wages. So not sure what else McCabe could have done this year really? Yes Slew went but I think we got a superb deal for 2 million for someone who had barely convinced even at this level.
McCabe has been at nearly every game this year and his presence seems to indicate he is still interested. He says he is propping up the club with his money and needs outside help and it is hard to argue with this but he now needs to have one last push to propel the club or needs to try harder to find a replacement/new investor. At the moment we are sort of bobbing around but then again 1 goal here or there and we go up and everyone says what a good McCabe has done (keeping the core of the squad and appointing Wilson). The margins are so slim but sadly that is how business and football is judged and ultimately McCabe is owner and has overseen our decline to become the biggest underachieving club in the country (in terms of history/fans/ground/size of club etc). Last season he said himself was ‘successful but a failure.’ That oxymoron in many ways does sum things up.
It is odd that Chris Steer is our chairman but we never hear anything from him? Indeed it seems like him and the others lack the financial clout to help McCabe and as he said the other day we have to somehow try and get this outside investment.
In terms of other things outside of the playing aspects; the ground is still impressive even though it would be great if they could redevelop the Kop and do a few other bits and pieces. This of course is not a priority at the moment. I think that the pitch was very poor much of last season and it does not help that the Eagles are playing there; how much do we actually get out of this arrangement/surely it cannot be much?
I think the match day prices are ridiculous for this level for pay on the day and means most casual fans will only bother for the occasional offer games meaning we are restricted to season ticket holders and a few others most games. I can see the average being around 15,000 next season as we lose more fans the longer we stay in this division. To be fair the deals for season ticket holders for all ages/types are really good I feel.
It is good to see the fans being canvassed about improvements to the match day experience. The catering/prices are very poor and the continued defiance to play the ‘Tom Hark’ music is at the least irritating (most fans do not want it anymore). However praise to the ticket office as for the most part they handled the Exeter/PO final ticket scenarios very well and the online system is a big improvement and a massive help (albeit temperamental at times).
I do like the new shirt (not the shorts and would prefer white socks) and for all their critics it seems we get more money from Macron that we would from bigger companies and at least they make bespoke strips rather than identikit ones that many of these bigger suppliers provide.
As an aside I do think the club handled the Evans situation fairly well throughout the season/court case and then the verdict. They kept their dignity and dealt with the situation; re- Connor Brown well. I will add though that I think they maybe could have put a statement on saying they were going to review the whole situation (re-Evans contract) at the end of the season and due to appeal it was inappropriate to comment (rather than just putting up the solicitors statement which was nothing to do with United as a club?). They then kind of snook him on the released list thinking no one would notice! The silence on it I suppose is one way to handle it and by saying nothing they have said it all. Any appeal is going to take at least a year and he may even be released before any re-trial/appeal is heard. He will not play for this club again and United have to move on.
I think McCabe would admit that the last 3 or 4 years have been a disaster but then last season he/we almost managed to finally start the ascent back to acceptability both in terms of the way the team played and the way the club operated (one manager all season, a mostly consistent team and less player departures/reliance on loanees). However, ultimately we are in the same position now as we were last season and thus McCabe is still under pressure to deliver. If we sell further players and get off to a bad start the pressure will heap on him and Wilson. That is why he must make positive moves to support Wilson.
Worryingly, he seems to have already set up our fans for the loss of Lowton and Maguire by saying the usual ‘if a bid comes in to the player there is little we can do….’ This is disappointing and if we did sell these two (and/or Quinn) his words about us wanting to bounce back quickly and go up will prove to be empty. If those 3 (and McDonald) go we can forget promotion next year and it will be a long road back.
I am still a little unsure whether he sees himself being our owner long term but at the moment he has no choice as no one wants to take his debts off him and pay him off. He has to battle on and somehow turn around the mess that for the most part he has accounted for himself. Even if he gets the debts down (albeit is debts) to a manageable level and can get us back to a stable Championship squad then at least he has restored some parity. At the moment we are sadly in a far worse situation financially and playing than we ever were when he took over. He had a lot of work to do to restore any kind of respect with most supporters who only see us in the worst position league they have been for the last 25 years.
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.
Frank Barlow Barlow did not say much nor was he interviewed much in the press, but seems to have been Wilson’s trusty number 2 most of his managerial career. He seems to quietly do an effective job and being a Sheffield lad and a Blades growing up knows how much it means to the fans.
Chris Morgan His playing career is probably over sadly. He has not played for 18 months and I cannot see how he can come back now. I hope I am wrong. He seems to have done a decent job on the coaching side and has helped the reserves to the title. He seems the sort of guy that could do a good job on this front and now that is surely where his future now lies. I am sure he is doing all his badges and hopefully his strong leadership can continue to be an asset to us moving forward.
Paul Crichton is our goalkeeping coach but he seems to have not been able to install any kind of confidence in Steve Simonsen whose decision making/inability to take crosses seems to have got no better. Similarly George Long actually may have regressed this year. Worrying that our keepers are getting worse rather than better. Be interesting to see what happens with Howard if he becomes the regular number one.
Bill Dearden was brought in to head up the scouting network but so far other than McDonald, Phillips and Clarke, the signings both loan and full have been quite ordinary to poor. I hope now with longer time in the job we can come up with better than Flynn, Porter, O’Halloran, Mendez Laing etc that hardly set the place alight. I think our scouting and signings over the last few years have been really, really poor and I struggle to recall many good signings we have made especially less heralded ones who we pick up from the lower divisions who have hunger and pace and give us something different. It is a big summer for Dearden and his team who should have been doing their work regardless of what division we may have been in. I will be looking closely at who he identifies for Wilson to bring in as I expect better than what we have seen so far. It was mostly the existing players that had been here before Wilson arrived (credit him for work with Evans, Doyle, Collins etc) that got us up to where we were rather than inspired new signings. Charlton did it last year (and maybe PNE) are doing it this year signing a lot of players for little money/Bosmans and putting together a fresh and exciting group that maybe were not known but were players on the up. We need that. Not ageing has beens (Cresswell, Porter, Beattie, Hill) after one last pay deal. These such players would be on less wages too and want to move up the leagues.
John Pemberton Pemberton has been less prominent this season at least in terms of being in the media and seems to more in the background under Wilson than he was under Speed/Adams where I often saw him with the managers or more involved. He seems to be firmly back working with the youth team after some speculation had put him in with a shot of the first team job a year ago. The youth team did not have as many successful results this year but having lost many to the first team/reserves that was not surprising. Hopefully he now can be working with the next bunch to try and challenge for the first team. I heard some rumours about Pemberton may leave that were eventually denied but it does seem his role has lessened somewhat this season so it may be one to keep an eye on.
The Academy has obviously brought a great deal of money into the club and I hear McCabe saying we will have more young/developmental players coming through next season but I have not seen many that could do a Naughton/Walker/Maguire/Lowton as Long has not convinced and it seems others like Kennedy and Whitehouse are still a bit off being first team regulars. Development players like Philliskirk, Tonne, Warren, Connelly, Harriott, McAllister have not really had the impact many would have though and quite a few have or will move on as if they are not ready now will they ever be ready (some have gone on loan and failed even further down the leagues?)
Wilson has done a very good job but we failed to go up and now the pressure might really be on. Wthout Evans we did not look the same side in the closing stages of the season and with him no longer on the books and McDonald maybe gone, it remains to be seen if we can play the same kind of flowing football we have done. Without those two we did not look the same and started to go more route one. If we do lose others such as Quinn, Lowton and Maguire, it is going to be hard for him unless he can bring in better players than the ones he has already.
I am fearful if we do not get off to a good start then some of the fans will wrongly (if he loses key players) make him a scapegoat. I worry that if we are around mid table or lower around Autumn time then some of those that never wanted him may rear their ugly heads again. I already heard a few ridiculous comments leaving Wembley saying he should be got rid of. Seriously. I hope not. I hope he can continue the nice brand of football, we can somehow keep most of the team, add a quality striker to replace Evans and get some pace and youth into the side. Whatever happens he deserves to stay in charge and shape another squad to try and go up. It is going to be key to him not only keeping players but also who he brings in. Chris Powell (and Megson/Dave Jones) did it well; much better than him on the whole. We sign 2 or 3 good players who pay off this year and a few loanees (and keep say 2 or 3 of Quinn, McDonald, Lowton and Maguire) then there is no reason in a seemingly weaker division why we cannot be near the top again. If we don’t do those things and get off to a poor start you can see us being in this division and going through more managers again for the foreseeable.