Alan Biggs: January sales key for Blades

Nigel Adkins, manager of Sheffield Utd
Nigel Adkins, manager of Sheffield Utd
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It’s a start. Is it a spark? Maybe now is not the time to rain on a victory parade, a rare one at that. Sheffield United finally have a chance to show that one big win can be a significant turning point in their season.

And yes, it took more of the grit that had been lacking to edge out Coventry City and prolong a series of dogged displays that included a point at Barnsley and an FA Cup second round squeeze against Oldham. All achieved in a manner that probably goes against the grain with the idealist side of manager Nigel Adkins’ nature.

But – and you knew there was a slightly watery one coming – my impression last Sunday was that it will take a fair gust of change in the January window to stop the squalls of dissent around Bramall Lane and make the storm warnings for the opposition only.

The individual and collective shortcomings in Adkins’ side could not be masked by a result that owed in no small measure to favourable refereeing decisions, much as United can claim they were due some breaks.

It was this column’s first viewing of the Blades since the crowd’s understandable dissatisfaction peaked after a 4-2 home defeat to Shrewsbury. And if this was an improvement acknowledged by their critics, certainly in terms of resolve against a good team, it did little to allay the feeling that Adkins must seize an opportunity to re-shape his team.

While there was obviously more fortitude off the ball in holding Coventry at bay, United looked a side without conviction and direction when in possession. It was laboured and ponderous stuff, perhaps leaving you – and me – with the conclusion that some players are not as good as we thought they were.

There is little or no sense of identity in terms of the brand of football. Adkins appears to want passing from the back but doesn’t seem to have players equipped to do that. Of his signings, Martyn Woolford flopped on a big chance to shine, Conor Sammon again struggled to convince and the jury remains out on the experienced Dean Hammond, although there are signs of him shaping as a strong midfield anchorman.

Billy Sharp is the clear exception, delivering a bristling and ultimately match-winning response to being dropped to the bench with his eighth goal of the season. Consistently getting the ball into areas where he and the likes of Matt Done and Che Adams, when clear of suspension, can damage the opposition still looks stop-start.

Where there has never been a doubt for me is that these players do care, they are working at it, even if a lack of leadership can give the opposite impression. But there is a need for freshness, more urgency and drive from wherever Adkins can find it.

What shouldn’t be in short supply is cash. The Jamie Murphy money is long promised and United have the considerable bonus of a money-spinning FA Cup visit to Manchester United.

In the meantime, the challenge is to eke out enough results to keep the season alive as a promotion pursuit.

And if players’ fighting for their futures helps achieve that, so much the better.