What promised to be a text-book introduction has since become a test of patience and crash course in contractual law. David Weir has certainly been thrown straight into the deep end at the start of his managerial career.
Having seen Sheffield United’s preparations overshadowed by doubts surrounding the future of arguably their most influential player, the former Everton and Glasgow Rangers defender’s weekend finished on a cruel note when his team were condemned to defeat by opponents who once again seem destined to mount a serious challenge for promotion.
Both Weir and his compatriot, Neill Collins, whose second-half goal briefly dragged the visitors’ back on level terms, refused to lay the blame for this result at Kevin McDonald’s door.
But, with United having constructed a tactical blueprint designed to exploit his immaculate technique, the midfielder’s absence nevertheless had a detrimental effect upon United’s performance.
While Weir prepared for talks with the 24-year-old, who spent the weekend at home contemplating whether to remain at Bramall Lane or join League One rivals Wolves, Collins insisted news McDonald had met with officials at Molineux, after Friday’s undisclosed offer triggered a clause in his present deal, had “nothing to do with what happened here”.
“It definitely goes without saying that we don’t want to lose someone like Kevin,” the Scot said. “But that didn’t have an impact on the outcome.
“From the moment we set off for the stadium we were fully focused on what was ahead.
“It’s disappointing. There were reasons why we didn’t win and they’re nothing to do with anything that is going on off the pitch.”
Collins, whose effort was later bettered by a Will Grigg brace, declined to elaborate further - “Everyone who was here saw. And things like that are better being discussed inhouse” - but United’s inability to subdue Adam Forshaw was chief among them.
The youngster, who progressed through the ranks at Everton, had a hand in all three of Brentford’s goals, opening the scoring from long-range before creating both of his colleague’s strikes.
However, although the hosts’ first effort oozed quality, the other two owed more to defensive lapses than individual brilliance.
Collins, who could be absolved of responsibility for either, said: “I’m sure fans get sick of hearing me say this but there are lads here who are working their nuts off to try and get us out of this division. I can absolutely assure them of that.
“They’ve stuck behind us for two years now and so that’s the very least our supporters deserve. We’re just disappointed that we couldn’t reward them here with a result.
“The other thing I can tell them is that we aren’t going to make or hide behind excuses. You never improve or fulfil your potential if you do that.
“The gaffer made sure we were well prepared and briefed on what was ahead. We always knew this was going to be a tough game.
“It’s early days yet but this is a division where you don’t want to fall too far behind anyone else. So that’s why we’ll work hard to iron things out.”
“One of the things we should have done better, us as players, was consolidate our position better,” he added. “Once we had equalised, we should have made sure that at the very least we came away with a point.
“It’s frustrating that we didn’t, but we’ll get there. We’ll get it right.”
Although Brentford enjoy a deserved reputation for incisive attacking play, they are also well-versed in the dark arts, as Febian Brandy discovered to his cost. The United winger was on the receiving end of some particularly meaty challenges as last season’s beaten play-off finalists seized control of the midfield.
Forshaw served notice of things to come when he sent a fierce shot fizzing inches over George Long’s crossbar before caressing the ball home from just outside the area.
Lyle Taylor, making his full United debut after arriving from Falkirk, responded with a decent attempt of his own following Stephen McGinn’s surging run.
But it was Collins who dragged United back on level terms after escaping his marker before converting Jamie Murphy’s corner. Having seen Conor Coady nearly convert Marcus Williams’ low centre seconds earlier, Weir’s charges had Brentford firmly on the back foot only to surrender the initiave by gifting them two goals.
Grigg pounced when Forshaw robbed McGinn of possession on the byline before cutting a low cross back into the box. He was then presented with an even simpler finish when Long, who later denied the centre-forward a hat-trick from the penalty spot when he collided with Harry Maguire, could only parry his teammate’s centre.
Long, who hopes to win his first England under-21 cap when they entertain Scotland at Bramall Lane tomorrow, also made important saves to thwart Conor McAleny and Forshaw.
“We’ve got some new players and a new manager,” Collins said. “A new manager who is bringing some really good ideas to the club and wants us to do the right things.
“You can tell someone like Conor (Coady), for example, is going to turn out to be a really big talent while Lyle scored goals for fun in Scotland. He’s got bags of ability too.
“We’ve also got to remember that they’re still right at the start of their Sheffield United careers. You don’t get much time in football these days but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still take time to settle properly and adjust. They’ll be really good additions for us, though. Without a doubt. You can see that.”