Blades-Mad Season Review: 2011-12 (Part Two)
Updated Thursday, 14th June 2012
Deadbat_DB reviews the Blades 2011-12 League One season. In Part Two he reviews the second half of the season from months January to May.
February The Blades got back to winning ways as they easily dispatched struggling Wycombe before they had perhaps their best performance of the season to win at Huddersfield with the now ever reliable Neil Collins scoring the winner and the previously much maligned Simonsen outstanding. Huddersfield surprisingly dispensed with their manager Lee Clark the next day! A horrible Preston outfit failed to stop the United juggernaut as Evans once again scored a crucial goal as the Blades won again. The following week with a 5 point gap opened up on rivals Wednesday. United were unable to put a huge marker down and went down by a single goal in the derby at Hillsborough. Days later as United beat Scunthorpe after a pretty poor peformance; Wednesday had sacked their manager Gary Megson and soon were to replace him with Dave Jones. It was seen as an odd move as despite Megson’s unpopularity with the United fans, he still had got them right in the promotion mix and they had just beaten the Blades. Little did we know at that time what impact this move would have on both clubs.
March The next few games were to perhaps be seen as the ones that may have cost united promotion. 2-0 up and coasting against Oldham, Michael Doyle hit the post and numerous other chances went begging. The game seemed as good as over when an own goal by Cresswell and then a sending off for Matt Lowton turned the game. Oldham levelled and then at the death Maguire committed a professional foul and ex Wednesday man Kuqi won it from the spot. United had also lost Francois with a serious injury and now had to play at Walsall with 3 of the back 4 missing. They lost this game with debutants Hill and Egan not able to stop the struggling Saddlers winning. Suddenly the gap was now down to 1 point. United were able to regroup with suspended players returning and won 2-0 at Brentford with Evans continuing to score freely. They now had newcomers Hoskins and O’Halloran in on loan to boost the attacking prospects especially with the Evans court case looming. They then got a decent point at Colchester with loan signing Will Hoskins on target. A poor performance against Tranmere saw United get just a point but they ended a packed month of games (due to FA Cup games previously in the season and postponements) by smashing 5 goals at Meadow Lane and then hitting another 4 against Chesterfield to maintain a slim advantage over Wednesday who had now hit a rich vein of form. It was not helping that United had to keep playing after their rivals due to the way the fixtures/kick off times had fell. United had to beat Hartlepool, after Wednesday had won a lunch time game, with a late Evans penalty being the difference.
April As we moved into April, United were now within touching distance of promotion but had the Owls breathing right down their neck. They managed to see off Bournemouth with a nervy close the game. Then after Wednesday beat Oldham on Easter Monday, United then had to go to Rochdale but hit another 5 goals as their remarkable scoring record now saw them the highest scoring side in the country. It was this week that the Ched Evans court case began but he was free to return and wrap up a victory against Orient at the Lane and Wednesday could only draw. United now needed only 5 points to be certain of promotion in the final 3 games. On the following Friday though shockwaves went around the city and for all United fans as Evans was sentenced to 5 years in jail for rape. The decision seemed puzzling to many United fans considering the evidence they were made aware of and that the other player involved Clayton McDonald was acquitted. Fans forums buzzed and the fall out was not pretty in terms of comments made at the ‘victim’ and it seemed many people’s football allegiances seemed to give them a ridiculous stance on proceedings with fans on both side of the city deciding to be literally judge and jury. However, there was nothing United could do but it seemed the shock of the conviction carried over the following day as United lost at MK Dons despite taking 6,000 fans. A late winner with virtually the last kick of stoppage time saw Wednesday now within a point. The following week after Wednesday won again United went 2-0 behind at home in front of an expect full house and only a late fight back pinched a point against Stevenage. However, the advantage had now gone and Wednesday now had to merely win their last game to seal promotion against already relegated Wycombe.
Once again as with other seasons where United had been so close, there was so many ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. Across the city what if Wednesday had not had their spine of their team provided by talented loanees that did not belong to them? What if they had kept Megson? Closer to home what if Simonsen had just made one less mistake, what if we had beaten Wednesday at least once, what if we hadn’t thrown away the Oldham game (and the Walsall game that came with it – a 2 for 1 if you like), what if we had signed better loan strikers or ones that had stayed fit/not got suspended? What if Mr Evans had not gone out on that fateful night or not participated in the events that affectively may have ruined his life and career whatever the murmuring about his perceived guilt/innocence? What if Beattie had scored at the end v Stevenage? What if Lowton had scored that penalty? You can go on and on. United amassed 90 points and scored 92 goals. It should have been enough but it wasn’t. We played some lovely football at times and it was completely different to the seasons that had gone before. Yes, there were some truly shocking opposition and maybe when it mattered we could not do it (2 wins from 10 against the top 5) but no one can argue they had not enjoyed the season and felt energized by watching the Blades again. Sadly it was all for nought.
United are now stuck in the third tier of the football league and with their rivals threatening to leave them behind for some time. With rumours over departures of key men such as Lowton, Maguire and Quinn and uncertain futures for out of contract players McDonald and Williamson, the future is very uncertain. The club is losing money rapidly and it may have to face up more years of cost cutting and further losses to the playing staff. Hopefully we can see a better result in terms of players arriving and that the previously poor scouting system (at least in terms of players recruited externally) can bring in some pace, athleticism and hunger. Surely United are still attractive to most players outside the top two divisions and if we can cherry pick some of these better players and keep the nucleus of the side there is no reason why we cannot be around the top 6 at least again next year. If we do lose some of the aforementioned players and incoming players resemble the likes of Flynn and Porter then we are in danger of being sucked into several years of mediocrity in this division. It is going to be another key summer and one that for most United fans is hard to take after getting so close to returning the to the Championship at the first attempts after many, including myself, had never thought this possible a year ago.
May United went to Exeter with a big following once again but news coming in from S6 was not good and the Owls were up. Beattie ridiculously got himself sent off as United ended up drawing their own game. United once again had to go through the agony of the playoffs. The Evans blow had hit the side hard but failure to take any wins from the last three games and Wednesday winning all three meant the unthinkable had happened. As Wednesday held a civic reception United had to traipse down to Stevenage and do it all again. A creditable 0-0 draw in the first leg was followed by an equally dour game in the second with United missing both Cresswell and then McDonald through injury. However, United did just about enough to win and a late Porter header sent the Blades to Wembley.
United went into their fourth playoff final but McDonald was ruled out and with striking options severely limited, United opted to play it tight and had a 4-5-1 formation again. In front of around 30,000 fans that had spent a fortune to get there it was another limp Wembley performance in front of the now traditional searing hear. Despite outstanding performance from Quinn, Maguire and even Simonsen, the Blades never really looked like scoring and were fortunate to get to penalties. Predictably United lost both tosses and the kicks were taken away from the United fans. After Huddersfield missed their first 3, it seemed like unthinkably United may do it. Key misses from Lowton and Taylor put paid to that and United were forever playing catch up taking their kick second. They kept hanging in there until it went to the keepers and as Steve Simonsen stepped up you never felt confident he would score and so it proved. His ballooned effort went high into the jubilant Huddersfield fans and as he lay prostrate on the ground, most other United players lay on the turf motionless. United had blown it again. Not only at the end of the season but also in another show piece final.