Kevin Gage played over 100 times for Sheffield United and, in his exclusive column for The Star, discusses United's shock 3-0 defeat at home to Southend on Tuesday night.
I don’t know for certain because I’ve never been one (nor did I ever want to be one!) but I’d imagine there are times when being a football manager must feel like being the loneliest job in the world.
Having to stand alone and pace around that technical area must be a fabulous feeling during the good times. The days when everything is going your teams way, the goals are flying in, the team are performing and the home crowd are happy, and chanting your name. But then there’s the flip side. The not-so-good-times. The bad times. The darker, lonelier times when the tables turn and the whole crowd is focusing on you and your team's failings.
The times when your team can’t seem to put a foot right, do inexplicable things on the pitch, and seemingly every mistake is magnified, gets seized upon and ultimately costs your team. Well, Tuesday night against Southend will probably rank right up there in Chris Wilder’s managerial career as a bad time. A very bad time in fact and, as a Blades fan to boot, one of his worst times I’d imagine.
For every game, a decent manager can set up his team perfectly. They can train well, be fully fit and raring to go. They will be organized and know what their jobs are. Set pieces, both for and against, will be drilled home to the players. Basically, everything that can be done pre-game will be done. But as soon as the whistle goes, the manager, contrary to popular opinion, can’t really affect his players too much, especially during the first half.
A half-time rollocking with a few flying tea cups and a ‘hairdryer’ rant will sometimes work wonders, as will a sub or two if needed, and a tactical change may help, but any of those will only effect the second half. On Tuesday night, after one of the most bizarre first 15-20 minutes I’ve ever witnessed as a spectator or player in my 36 years of professional football, the first-half damage was already done.
No manager in the world can possibly legislate for the absurdity of the defending for the three conceded goals gifted to the opposition. Yes, there was an element of bad luck about the first, together with an possible offside claim, but the other two Southend goals were simply a result of comical, terribly naïve, indecisive defending. The shocked silence from the crowd in the next five minutes was quite telling as we all struggled to believe what we’d just seen. The team played out the remaining first-half somewhat in a daze, as if they couldn’t believe it either.
If we can take any positives from a 3-0 defeat at home to a team who’d lost their last eight games, then despite the ‘clutching at straws’ accusations I’ll get, I will try. We were much better in the second half. Not good, but better. We looked more likely to score, but (again) crossing /final ball let us down. Paul Coutts looks five yards faster, plus fitter and stronger this season and with his undoubted ability to pass the ball, might yet have a role to play. Chris Basham seemed to take on the ‘leader’ role and drove the team on. Unfortunately, that’s about it in the positives section.
Most sensible Blades fans would have been under no illusions that the team needed rebuilding this season, and Chris Wilder has vast experience of managing football teams, and doing this exact job. Hard to believe, but with over 700 managerial games under his belt, he is twice as experienced as a certain Dave Bassett was when he first joined us. He also has more games than Neil Warnock had when he did. Chris has a track record of success at the levels he’s managed at, and of getting the job done.
It's now obvious it’s not going to happen overnight. It didn’t for the two managers mentioned above, who went on to be the two most successful managers of our generation. It took Warnock six seasons to build a team to get us promoted, included some mediocre mid-table finishes. Even Bassett couldn’t work his magic instantly, as he couldn’t stop United sliding into the third tier after he arrived in January 1988.
It may be frustrating at the moment, and we may not like it, but it’s a rebuilding job that is maybe going to take some time. We have tried the instant fixes and papered over the cracks before. Chris Wilder, as he’s proved previously, will get the job done. Solidly, and maybe slowly, but surely. We have no option than to be patient, and wait.