WITH friends like David McAllister, who needs enemies.
Graham Turner spent nearly three months polishing the Sheffield United midfielder’s skills at Shrewsbury Town last season only to watch him repay that debt by wrecking the visitors’ long-awaited League One homecoming.
Little wonder McAllister, who scored the only goal of a combative but far from compelling curtain-raiser, was determined to sneak out of the stadium without catching his former mentor’s gaze.
“I haven’t seen Graham and I’m not so sure he’d want to speak to me,” McAllister said.
“I did bump into him in the tunnel beforehand and he told me to have a great year and do my absolute best.
“Only not against Shrewsbury.”
United won an army of admirers en route to May’s play-off final but, having been denied a place in the Championship by Huddersfield Town, started the new campaign acutely aware there are no points for style.
Which is just as well given that Saturday afternoon’s contest will have appealed to pugilists rather than purists.
Despite their disappointment, Shrewsbury demonstrated enough to suggest their first taste of third-tier football since 1997 is not destined to end in disaster.
United, meanwhile, were simply relieved to emerge from what proved to be a rigorous examination of their own credentials unscathed.
“The aim is to go straight up this year,” McAllister continued. “We don’t want any messing around with play-offs or penalties.
“Everyone has had a gutful of that, I reckon.
“We weren’t too happy with our display but the most important thing is that we got the points.
“And if we want to get to where we want to be then that’s all that really matters.”
McAllister, who made 15 loan appearances for Town earlier this year, demonstrated impeccable timing both on and off the pitch.
His fourth-minute finish from Marcus Williams’ centre not only proved enough to ensure United’s latest bid for promotion got off to a perfect start and, with United manager Danny Wilson repeating his plea for more goals from deep-lying positions before kick-off, also threatens to have ramifications far beyond this fixture.
“I‘ve always tried to make goals a part of my game and I was delighted to get one here,” McAllister said.
“I know the manager wants us to spread them around in the team so hopefully I’ve not done myself any harm.
“It would be good to think that’s the first of many but there are some cracking players ahead of me so I know I’ve got to work hard.
“Going to Shrewsbury really helped me. I definitely think I’ve improved a lot so I’ve got a lot to thank them for.
“Although I’ve always had the energy to get about the pitch and get myself in the right positions, when I went there it really brought on other areas of my game like technique.
“What I want to do now is show I can bring all of them together for Sheffield United.”
Turner, who first stepped into the dug-out when Wilson was still an aspiring young professional at Wigan Athletic, has used over three decades’ worth of experience to fashion an effective, well-drilled side in the sleepy backwaters of Shropshire.
Having seen McAllister convert United’s first move of note, the former Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa chief’s charges fashioned enough chances to have secured a share of the spoils.
The excellent Paul Parry was their most creative source and responsible for forging one opening moments before the interval which Mark Wright inexplicably dragged wide.
“I don’t know how he did but he managed it,” Turner said afterwards. “I thought we made plenty of openings but we didn’t put any of them away.
“And that was the difference between the sides.”
McAllister, though, was not the only United player whose performance suggested United will again emerge as serious contenders.
Nick Blackman, partnered by debutant John Cofie in attack, was a danger throughout while Mark Howard made several impressive saves.
Even Williams, who a week earlier had seemed consumed by nerves during United’s Capital One Cup tie against Burton Albion, acquitted himself well despite often being left exposed as Town swarmed around the centre circle.
Turner said: “Let’s be honest, Sheffield United were desperately unfortunate not to go up last season. And if you can’t be excited about the thought of competing on a surface like this and in a stadium as good as this one then you’re doing something wrong.”
Wilson, who watched Blackman and Tony McMahon go close as United improved after the interval, has warned opponents will be inspired not intimidated by the thought of playing at Bramall Lane this season.
So, although they lacked rhythm for long spells, he will have been comforted to learn United are ready to meet that challenge head on with Michael Doyle bravely flinging himself at Parry’s feet during a late scramble in the box.
“Make no mistake, this was a potential banana skin,” Wilson, speaking ahead of tomorrow‘s match at Coventry City, said. “A lot of people might have been surprised by how well Shrewsbury did but not me. Graham is an excellent manager and seems to have been around for something like 95 years so what he doesn’t know probably isn’t worth knowing. He’s a real warhorse.
“There are plenty of areas where we can improve but we showed some very good qualities ourselves.
“The lads dug in and showed they were ready to fight and battle. There is a long way to go and plenty of hard work ahead.”