Alan Biggs: Last chance saloon for Blades gamble on unproven manager

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Trying to defend a manager who has lost six matches in a row is like turning up for the gunfight at the O.K. Corral with a peashooter.

Sling in the fact that this is Sheffield United and they are bottom of League One and you are a sitting duck. Which is one obvious reason why United haven’t attempted to return fire on the many critics of David Weir.

But there is another very good one. United, it seems to me, are making one last stand in support of their currently beleaguered rookie boss.

I’ll explain. How would a public declaration of backing be viewed? Yes, right, a sinister “vote of confidence.” Silence is better. Besides, could the Blades continue to win the argument if, unthinkably, the run stretched to a seventh straight defeat at home to Crawley tomorrow? I very much doubt it.

A sequence like this at a club with promotion ambitions cannot go on indefinitely. The importance of this one game to Weir and the club cannot be over-estimated. But I sincerely hope he buys some time, even though I was among those who urged the Blades to appoint an experienced manager last summer. Gary Johnson would have been my choice to replace Danny Wilson, whose sacking looked an act of folly even at the time.

But if you had to go for a novice, Weir, with his background and contacts, was as good a choice as any. Above all, I felt United had a duty to back their sixth boss in as many years through better or worse in the short term.

Of course, it can’t get much worse. However, from all I have seen and heard, I would argue that there are a few good things bubbling below the surface. Some genuinely talented players have been signed, the playing style would in other circumstances be lauded.

None of which has brought results and right now Weir’s principles are at breaking point. But then that’s what he needs above all else... a break. A good performance, and preferably a win tomorrow, can be the watershed for a club that, rightly after the knee-jerks of the past, is holding its nerve for as long as possible.

United have no desire to sack another manager, more a dread of it. But if this one goes wrong then owner Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah need to summon some professional advice. And take it!

Owls new signings starting to make their mark suggests that they’re made of the right stuff

Dave Jones, as mentioned here last week, needs more impact from more of his signings to win over the anti-element among Sheffield Wednesday’s anxious support. Well, four of them seem to be doing just that.

Strike recruit Matty Fryatt was on target in a 1-1 draw at Brighton underpinned by outstanding keeper Chris Kirkland, while Stephen McPhail and Atdhe Nuhiu are also shaping well.

There are genuine signs that these latter two are capable of defining a more substantial identity for Jones’ team. McPhail showed up as a much needed playmaker in the improved display that was confounded by a harsh home defeat to Doncaster.

Nuhiu, whose appearances are being rationed because of his youth, looks an accomplished and aggressive striker whose two goals so far have been scant reward for his often luckless contributions.

A pub pal spotted that Nuhiu took the time to personally high-five all the kids on the pitch before kick-off against Doncaster. My son also noted that he was the one orchestrating the crowd during the team’s second half assault during which he would also chase back to win the ball in midfield. That’s the right stuff.

Don’t you know who I am?

Long-time friend and colleague Peter Slater recalls interviewing Howard Wilkinson in the downstairs toilet of the former Wednesday manager’s Sheffield home.

It’s one wacky story among many in Peter’s newly published memoir – and I’m tempted to wonder if it might be read in the same place!

This was the crazy night of Wilko’s Leeds United being confirmed as league champions in 1992. As a veteran broadcaster on BBC Radio 5 Live, Slater has covered major events at home and abroad, doubling up his football duties with a spell as a Formula One reporter.

“Damon Hill Hit Me” is one intriguingly titled chapter. As ever, it’s the off-the-wall incidents that enrich our lives in this business. If you enjoyed my “Confessions,” as many of you were kind enough to say you did, then you’ll love “Don’t You Know Who I Am?... 35 years being ignored by sport’s rich and famous” by Peter Slater (Vertical Editions £11.99).

Congrats to the Eagles

Congratulations Sheffield Eagles, I have not forgotten you but there is a better home for you in these pages of those with more understanding of rugby league and the immensity of your achievement in becoming the first side to win consecutive Grand Finals.

Let referees speak their mind

The Premier League suggest they want to root out “personality” referees following the vexed publication of Mark Halsey’s highly illuminating autobiography.

Are they not proud of Howard Webb?

As a World Cup final referee, Webb is known across the globe. That makes him a “personality” whether his English bosses – or Howard himself – like it or not.

It was also through a strong personality, not least in his dealings with players, that Webb reached the top.

Significantly, he was a product of Sheffield’s much respected former refereeing chief Keith Hackett rather than the current sterile and faceless regime who would prefer to turn officials into automatons rather than tailoring their style to characteristic strengths and weaknesses.

Professional Game Match Officials Ltd. would also seek to ban any contact whatsoever between referees and the media, which merely drives it underground. Of course, we speak to refs, as I have done on an amicable - if mostly private – basis for many years. It is because a trust has developed between us, yet referees are seemingly not trusted by their bosses.

I’m proud to say I would count Halsey as a friend. His old paymasters would be shocked to discover he rang me after he took charge of a Sheffield derby a couple of seasons back. The reason? He wanted to check the reaction and be assured that he had managed to stay out of the headlines. Personality ref indeed! And, by the way, nothing was written as a result of that private exchange.

“Added Time” – written with leading journalist Ian Ridley – is nothing to do with a referee cashing in on his career. The best stories are ones that others don’t want you to read. This is about two people combining to produce a powerful read that powerful people did not want you to see.

Cancer-beating Halsey took a £50,000 hit, surrendering a retirement pay-off and thereby a good deal more than he is likely to make from the book, to defy the Premier League after they had frightened a major publisher into dropping it. For the pair to self-publish the work makes it a point of principle.

As such, I commend you to believe every word.