Tuesday’s result at Blackpool, a goalless draw in challenging conditions on a gluepot of a pitch, was not cataclysmic.
But, as Nigel Adkins conceded, it did represent a disappointing outcome for a team which hopes to win promotion this term. Events inside Bloomfield Road, where two sides chasing very different targets battled themselves, each other and the remnants of Storm Jonas, also revealed much about where the visitors are right now and the steps they must take to avoid, what midfielder Chris Basham described in midweek as another “hard luck story”, come the end of the campaign.
It would be wrong, slightly impetuous even, to claim United are a club in crisis. What they are, to be exact, is a club in flux. And exhibiting all the obvious symptoms. Little wonder when you consider Adkins is the ninth person to take charge since their previous visit to Blackpool seven years ago. Some of those changes were inevitable. Others, on reflection, perhaps a shade hasty or misjudged. But that is a different argument. And, what can not be denied, is that constant change inevitably takes its toll.
Adkins and his most recent predecessor, Nigel Clough, are cut from very different cloth. Tactically and in a personal sense. But, at some stage of their reigns, both have performed the same philosophical u-turn and employed an approach which emphasises the importance of containing the opposition rather than overwhelming them with a deluge of goals. Why? Well, in Adkins’ case, a lack of total trust in his present squad’s ability to perfect his usual methods would seem to be the most obvious answer. Especially when considered against his desire to tweak some key positions before the transfer deadline next week. So make do and mend. It is not surprisingly because, due to the constraints of FFP and SCMP, it is impossible to mould an entire playing staff over the course of two transfer windows. Bramall Lane’s board of directors has provided backing to its managers in recent seasons. But the time to elicit those changes has, in some cases and for contrasting reasons, been denied. A problem made even more acute by United’s failure to establish systems, at first team level at least, which remain in place whoever is at the helm. Something which at least two members are now seeking to address.
Seventh in the table and a point behind sixth, United showed plenty of industry against Blackpool. Appeared pretty solid and kept a good shape. What they lacked was that little spark of imagination to make it count. United are tantalisingly close to becoming a very effective unit. But that final step, or in this case balancing act, is often the most difficult to make.