Un­happy Blades left to boo­gie on alone

The Football League Paper - - CHRIS DUNLAVY - Chris Dunlavy

WE’VE all been there. A night out club­bing with four or five mates, who, one by one, strike lucky and slope off into dark cor­ners.

Then it’s just you, danc­ing like a saddo and sober­ing up by the minute. Sh­effield United fans know that feel­ing very well.

Not so long ago, League One was fit to burst with fallen gi­ants. Nor­wich, Southamp­ton, Charl­ton and Wed­nes­day. Even Wolves dipped their toes in the murk.

Now they are all gone.The mu­sic has stopped.The floor is sticky.The lights have come on – and the Blades are the only ones still bop­ping away for­lornly.

At least the spurned club­ber could go home and forget the whole sorry mess. For United, there is no such refuge.


They were ti­tle favourites at the start of the sea­son, but Tues­day’s hu­mil­i­at­ing 4-2 drub­bing at home by rel­e­ga­tion-haunted Shrews­bury left Nigel Ad­kins’ men ma­rooned in mid-ta­ble. Win­less in five league games, even the play-offs are look­ing a strug­gle.

Span­ish mae­stro Xavi an­nounced in mid­week he was a fan of the Blades. “They are in the third di­vi­sion yet get 20,000 fans ev­ery week,” said the 35-year-old, af­ter meet­ing a young United sup­porter. “That is in­cred­i­ble. In Spain, it would be a few peo­ple and the fam­i­lies of the play­ers.”

Yet, even this sadis­ti­cally loyal band can be pushed only so far. When the fi­nal whis­tle fi­nally put an end to Tues­day’s mis­ery, Bra­mall Lane rang with frus­tra­tion and fury.

As well it should. Un­like Xavi, a man who un­der­stands the game, Blades chair­man Jim Phipps sug­gested three weeks ago that the fans needed to “step it up” and “could do bet­ter”.

Which is bit rich con­sid­er­ing the down­ward tra­jec­tory the club has steered from the mo­ment he stepped aboard.

United’s prob­lems be­gin and end in the board­room. Phipps, Kevin McCabe, the lesser-spot­ted Prince Ab­dul­lah bin Mosaad bin Ab­du­laziz Al Saud – the Blades have more direc­tors than Univer­sal Stu­dios but seem­ingly no sem­blance of a strat­egy.

There are es­sen­tially three ways to win pro­mo­tion from the Cham­pi­onship. One is to chuck a load of cash at it, like QPR. An­other is to con­coct a phi­los­o­phy, then sign play­ers and man­agers who fit the mould. Think Swansea or Wat­ford. The last – best il­lus­trated by Bournemouth – is to keep faith with a man­ager, thus cre­at­ing sta­bil­ity and spirit.

United haven’t done any of that. Their best play­ers have been sold to ser­vice what, un­til 2013, were crip­pling debts. That’s fair enough.

Man­agers have been jet­ti­soned like toxic waste. Danny Wil­son, whose win ra­tio bettered Neil Warnock’s, was sacked af­ter de­feat in the play-off fi­nal, de­spite his sea­son be­ing ru­ined by the ar­rest of Ched Evans.

Re­place­ment David Weir lasted 13 games. Nigel Clough, who also reached the play-offs, was binned on the back of so­cial me­dia jab­ber­ing about per­ceived neg­a­tive tac­tics. And, as for a phi­los­o­phy, you’d have bet­ter luck find­ing Sher­gar.

Phipps aimed a thinly-veiled dig at Nigel Clough, ac­cus­ing a for­mer man­ager of “un­der­min­ing” the tech­ni­cal board by sign­ing in­jured play­ers. But who sanc­tioned the sales? Who signed the cheques?

Un­less there’s a smarter plan than sim­ply sack­ing man­agers and hop­ing for the best, the Blades could spend many more years in the depths of the Foot­ball League.

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