Danny Hall: Time for a change in strategy at Sheffield United after sacking of Nigel Adkins?

Nigel Adkins has been sacked as Sheffield United boss
Nigel Adkins has been sacked as Sheffield United boss
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Insanity, Albert Einstein once said, is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.

It’s unclear what Einstein knew about football - and if it’s anything at all, he’d probably stay away from being a football manager - or whether he, indeed, ever spoke about insanity definitions anyway.


But you can see the point. Especially if you’ve followed Sheffield United at any sort of close quarters over these last five years, which have now seen five managerial sackings following this morning’s decision to part company with the latest, Nigel Adkins.


Adkins, whose appointment last June was hailed by almost everyone of a red-and-white persuasion in this city, saw his United reign get off to the worst possible start with a 4-0 hammering at Gillingham on the opening day. It couldn’t get much worse from there but, in truth, it didn’t get too much better either as United coughed and spluttered their way to 11th in League One, their worst season return since the 1980s.


Chris Wilder, the Northampton Town boss and former Blade, can surely not fail to improve on that after taking the Bramall Lane hotseat. And United’s statement on Adkins’ departure, pointedly mentioning their former boss’ three-year deal which ends after less than one, describes promotion from League One as “an overriding aim” and “the priority”. As it well should.


But should that be the sole yardstick which Wilder - or, indeed, any manager at the Lane - is judged on? Danny Wilson got two chances at it; the first, United scored 92 goals and amassed 90 points but, shorn of Ched Evans for the promotion run-in, were pipped to promotion by Sheffield Wednesday and lost the play-off final at Wembley on penalties. In his second, after a mass exodus of star players, he was sacked with United in the play-off places, and six points off automatic promotion. With two games in hand.


The experiment of David Weir proved futile, the Scot winning just one of his 13 games in charge of United, and the club were in relegation trouble when Nigel Clough took over. In his two seasons he guided United to seventh and fifth, plus two major cup semi-finals. But no promotion, so he was out, too.


Adkins, speaking after his final game as United boss against Scunthorpe, insisted that his three-year contract contained no written insistence of promotion but, in truth, it wasn’t needed. Everyone at Bramall Lane knew this was his remit and, in that instance, he failed. To use one of his favourite phrases, Adkins was judged to have fallen well short in his arena.


But this was an ideal opportunity to look beyond the short term and, for once, address the bigger picture. This summer, a number of United’s bloated squad see their contracts expire and at least two, Mark Howard and Terry Kennedy, had been informed that they won’t be renewed. 


United’s U18s and U21s both reached their respective finals. Young players like Louis Reed, Ben Whiteman and Che Adams showed that they have both the industry and invention to be major parts of the first-team squad.


The story of Adkins' Blades career

The story of Adkins' Blades career

They’ll doubtless still form an integral part of Wilder’s plans, but the former Blade is under the pump right from the very beginning. A big Blades fan and straight-talker, Wilder will likely connect with the fans in a way that Adkins never quite managed. But any talk of ‘building’, ‘projects’ or even ‘time’ at Bramall Lane is futile; the objective, going by their previous hiring and firing strategy, is ‘promotion or bust’ and as frustration and pressure grows, there’s no immediate chance of that changing.


When it all goes wrong, co-owner Kevin McCabe’s seemingly default response is to blame bad luck. But on the terraces, questions are beginning to be asked of the men upstairs. 


Look just six miles away towards Rotherham’s New York Stadium, where Neil Warnock is in demand once more. Warnock took over United in 1999, with the club on a real low; short of confidence, bereft of ideas and with relations between board and fans strained, to say the least. Sound familiar? Given time, Warnock led United to the Premier League and they’ve got nowhere near hitting similar heights since he left. 


United spoke of a ‘new direction’ after Clough’s departure, but the only way they haven’t moved is forwards. It’s been backwards at every turn.


United spoke of a ‘new direction’ after Clough’s departure, but the only way they haven’t moved is forwards. It’s been backwards at every turn.

Wilder, a boyhood Blade, can only hope that his club have finally learned from their mistakes.

But should the men who appointed him shoulder some blame for United's plight, too?

But should the men who appointed him shoulder some blame for United's plight, too?

Chris Wilder looks set to be the new man at the Lane helm

Chris Wilder looks set to be the new man at the Lane helm