Sheffield United’s schedule of summer friendlies was confirmed long before Nigel Adkins took the helm.
Whether or not it meets with the new regime’s approval remains open to debate but, following last night’s visit to Macclesfield Town, nobody could argue it has failed to pose a variety of different challenges.
The Vanarama National League side, preparing to emabark upon their fourth season in the division otherwise known as the Conference, were committed, feisty and, on occasion, inventive.
But they were unable to prevent United recording a decisive victory courtesy of Billy Sharp’s strike, a brace from Che Adams and Tony Diagne’s own goal.
It took Sharp less than a quarter-of-an-hour to demonstrate why Adkins invested so much time, energy and a significant chunk of his transfer budget luring the former Leeds centre-forward back to South Yorkshire.
Sharp, rejoining the visitors for a second time after graduating from their youth system, has enjoyed some of the most prolific spells of his career under the United manager’s tutelage at Scunthorpe and Southampton.
An emphatic angled drive which left Macclesfield’s goalkeeper grasping at thin air was greeted with a dramatic fist-pump by Adkins on the touchline and racous cheering from the away sections of the ground.
In Adams, though, Sharp appears to have found a rival for his status as the poster boy of Bramall Lane. The teenager, who this time last year was plying his trade with Ilkeston, has captured the imagination of colleagues and coaching staff alike with a series of fearless displays since leaving the New Manor Ground.
Adams continued in the same vein here by scoring his third of United’s warm-up programme soon after replacing the injured Jamal Campbell-Ryce, before claiming a second during the closing stages.
The case for Adkins to hand him a prominent role in the team which will be tasked with delivering promotion is fast becoming irresistible although he was guilty of a glaring miss moments earlier.
Perhaps there are flaws in his game after all.
This match, the penultimate fixture of United’s pre-season preparations, proved a test of their attacking prowess rather than defensive discipline although Macclesfield inevitably had their moments.
“It was another worthwhile exercise for us,” Adkins, who rested Jamie Murphy and Marc McNulty as a precautionary measure, said. “Another positive experience which we can take something from.”
United had travelled a total of 838 miles, via Ilkeston, Cheltenham and Exeter, en route to Moss Rose. Which admittedly pales into insignificance compared to the global jaunts undertaken by their top-flight counterparts but by coach, not plush private jet.
Hence the decision, with only Sunday’s game against Hull City remaining before next month’s League One curtain-raiser, to make four changes to the starting eleven which had held Newcastle to a draw 72 hours earlier.
Sharp made his first appearance since returning to United from Leeds and partnered Conor Sammon in attack.
At first glance, Adkins’ selections have been seemingly inconsistent. On closer inspection, though, a pattern is beginning to emerge with Jay McEveley again partnering Neill Collins at centre-half while Jose Baxter and Chris Basham continued to dovetail in midfield. United’s performances at dead-ball situations have also been much improved of late.
Indeed it was from Campbell-Ryce’s free-kick, swept into Macclesfield’s penalty area, that United took an 11th minute lead when Diagne diverted the ball into his own net. Sharp doubled their advantage two minutes later after being released by the winger and United never looked back.
Campbell-Ryce was withdrawn just before the interval after going down under a seemingly innocuous challenge and his replacement, Adams, stretched United’s lead still further after applying the finishing touches to a delightful move instigated by Callum McFadzean and continued by Baxter and Martyn Woolford.
Adams completed the rout in the 89th minute after combining well with Collins.
Sheffield United: Howard, Freeman, Collins, McEveley, McFadzean, Campbell-Ryce (Adams 36), Basham, Baxter, Woolford, Sharp (Khan 65), Sammon (Higdon 53). Not used: Long, Coustrain, Banton, Kelly.
Macclesfield Town Squad: Branagan, Halls, Haynes-Brown, Byrne, Diagne, Whitehead, Whitaker, Lewis, Holroyd, Marsden, Rowe, Cowan, Eve, Bailey-Jones, Pooole, Bailey, Gnahoua.
Referee: B Toner