David Weir and his staff cast a forensic eye over Sheffield United’s performances last season after taking charge of the club in June, writes James Shield.
On last night’s evidence, those hours spent glued to a television monitor were not in vain.
Although it is still far too early to predict how they will fare over the course of the next 45 games, David Weir’s players dominated possession and created a wealth of chances against a Notts County side which spent the majority of the evening with only 10 men.
“I don’t know what I expected,” Weir, speaking after Kevin McDonald and Harry Maguire ensured his reign enjoyed the perfect start, confessed. “But I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed watching the lads play.
“We want to try and entertain but in football it’s also all about the result. So there’s a balance to be struck and that what, over the course of the season, we hope to try and achieve.
“It was our first game of the season and the live television cameras were here so that brought as little extra pressure I suppose. But the players responded to that really well.”
Weir, who had admitted beforehand to being “excited” about the prospect of making his competitive managerial debut, also spoke at length about the need for United to focus on a process rather than simply chasing single scorelines or even promotion.
“It’s all about trying to move in the right direction,” he insisted on Thursday. “Trying to take a step forward each and every time rather than looking any farther ahead than that.”
With that in mind, the former Scotland international, together with assistants Adam Owen and Lee Carsley, should be as pleased about the manner of United’s victory as they are the result.
When Gary Liddle was dismissed for a high-tackle on Kevin McDonald after less than a quarter-of-an-hour, referee Keith Stroud ensured the odds were skewed in the home team’s favour.
Nevertheless, at that point, United had already seized almost complete control with Jamie Murphy twice going close before McDonald applied the finishing touches to Darryl Westlake’s cross.
Having placed attacking full-backs at the heart of his tactical blueprint - and deployed McDonald in a much more advanced midfield role - Weir signalled his appreciation from the bench after watching the two combine to such great effect in the 30th minute.
If County felt aggreived about Stroud’s decision to produce a red card, then they had reason to thank the Hampshire official for not awarding penalties to either Chris Porter, who should have doubled United’s advantage soon after the interval, and then the excellent Febian Brandy.
On both occasions, County’s Yoann Arquin and then Dean Leacock clearly wrestled both men to the ground but escaped without censure.
“When they went down to 10 it actually presented us with a test,” Weir said.
“But I thought we passed it really well.
“We stayed patient in possession and passed the ball well. That was pleasing to see.
“Obviously there are areas where we can improve.
“It’s one small step and we haven’t achieved anything yet.
“But, overall, I thought the lads did ever so well.
“!They showed good ability and thought their way through which is exactly what we wanted.”
County, despite leaving Bramall Lane empty handed, could also take heart from aspects of their own performance.
Though being stretched this way and that as United attempted to turn the screw, they refused to fold and even threatened to snatch a point when substitute Enoch Showunmi drilled a low shot beyond George Long 14 minutes after the re-start.
The youngster, chosen ahead of fellow goalkeeper Mark Howard who could start against Burton Albion in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday evening, produced a fine instictive save to deny Danny Haynes following McDonald’s opener.
But, eight minutes later, Maguire restored United’s lead when he headed back across goal after meeting Stephen McGinn’s free-kick at the far post.
Conor Coady, on the for the injured Michael Doyle, and Brandy were both inches away from increasing the margin of victory during the closing stages before Mark Fotheringham spurned a rare opportunity for County.