Alan Biggs: Sheffield United ship is steady and McCabe and co. are plotting the right course

Nigel Clough
Nigel Clough
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Sometimes you can’t beat a bit of blind faith. And sometimes it’s the only option. You see, I don’t know the result of Sheffield United’s Capital One Cup semi-final first leg at Tottenham because of deadline reasons.

Clear as day, on the other hand, is that the League One table should look much better with a squad of United’s calibre. League and cup form are a strange contradiction, as Nigel Clough will know better than anyone. But the minority who mutter about the manager and suggest (what?) a change (?!) should consult their history books for the value of setting a course and sticking to it.

I’ll confidently venture this: whatever the outcome at White Hart Lane, the Blades are in their best shape to make progress since the lead-up to their fleeting Premier League season of 2006-07.

Between then and now, a few ill-judged decisions have set United back. Regular readers know what they are – in my opinion, anyway.

However, lessons have been learned. And how can we tell harmony at a football club? Well, it has less to do with sight than with sound.

If you hear little from – or about – the board then the chances are the club is healthy. Apart from one unfortunate recent episode, United’s hierarchy have blurred into the background. Of course, on-field promise enables that to happen but I suggest directors have played their part.

And there is one constant: Kevin McCabe. Talking of history books, I’ve just caught up on “Fit and Proper?” which charts the bloody battleground of the Bramall Lane boardroom in modern times. I reported first-hand the strife-torn era of Hashimi, Woolhouse, Hinchliffe, McDonald, Green and Colombotti but still shuddered even from a safe distance.

It served as a reminder of how the club almost imploded between the successful first chairmanship of Reg Brealey and McCabe’s entrance, first as a peace-making director and then as chairman at the turn of the millennium. What a comparison he has made with his predecessors.

For all the ups and downs, and the flurry of managerial changes I know he regrets, McCabe has been a steady anchor for 15 years. That’s no mean achievement in the choppy seas of professional football. And while some of the decision-making has been suspect, you can’t seriously doubt the sincerity of his intentions as a Blade at heart.

There was a time when I thought he enjoyed the profile. No harm in that and he certainly didn’t flinch from it. But I think in general McCabe has been wise to take a step back and allow the more naturally communicative Jim Phipps, on behalf of club ownership partner Prince Abdullah, to interact with supporters.

The build-up to promotion under Neil Warnock was about exactly that, the levelling of debts, building and then keeping. Hopefully we have a similar scenario now, albeit from a division lower, as Nigel Clough assembles a powerful squad with a clear ability to play higher and a healthy number of youngsters breaking through.

But it might also be about keeping the manager. You suspect Bolton’s rumoured interest in Clough and his short odds in the betting earlier this season was not just idle gossip. So the apparently old-fashioned style of his modus operandi (we’re told he manages all football matters) has to be protected. And that must be the number one lesson United have learned since the days of some of those whose names you have read above.