RETRO: When the Sheffield United had four managers in less than a year
Sheffield United seem to be changing their manager once a season these days.
But that’s nothing compared to 1997-98 when they had four in 11 months!
The Blades had planned to start the season with Howard Kendall, who had led them to the play-off final the previous season, in charge.
But in August Kendall was tempted back to his beloved Everton.
So they kicked off the season with Nigel Spackman as player manager and made a decent start.
However United, financially crippled by rising costs and the 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace in that play-off final, sold their two main strikers, Brian Deane and Jan Age Fjortoft to Benfica and Barnsley respectively.
Despite having left mid-season, 11-goal Deane still ended the term as United’s leading scorer and Spackman, unhappy with events, resigned in March, having lost only six of his 43 games in charge.
Enter Steve Thompson. The Sheffield-born right back, who attended Waltheof School, had played for Sheffield and Yorkshire schoolboys and signed schoolboy forms for the Blades, being released after two years.
Despite a year out of the game through a cartilage injury at the age of 18 he came back through non-League Worksop Town and Boston United before going on to play for Lincoln City, Charlton, Leicester City, Sheffield United and back to Lincoln.
He eventually managed the Imps and saved them from relegation before joining Kevin Keegan’s coaching staff at Newcastle, following up as assistant manager at Doncaster Rovers, director of football at Southend United, assistant boss at Notts County and manager at before a seconr return to Bramall Lane as Spackman’s assistant.
He impressed at the Lane, taking the club to the FA Cup semi-final where they were beaten 1-0 by an Alan Shearer goal for Newcastle United at Old Trafford.
But the prize United wanted more than anything was a return to the Premier League so Blades hopes were high when Thompson guided them to the play-offs and a semi-final clash with Sunderland.
The first leg at the Lane started badly, and they trailed to a 17th minute cracker from Sunderland captain Kevin Ball after a slip by Vassillis Borbokis.
So disappointing was the Blades performance that few in the Bramall Lane crowd could have forecast a second half rally.
But United produced a revitalised performance.
After Nick Summerbee missed an early chance to make it 2-0, United took control. A move involving Devlin, Marcelo and Saunders created a chance for Wayne Quinn, whose shot was bravely saved.
They were level in the 57th minute when a orbokis corner found Marcelo at the far post and the Brazilian side-footed home.
And the Blades clinched the leg with a goal of the season candidate from £2m-rated Borbokis, who curled an absolute beauty away from the keeper for a 2-1 win.
But they were out of luck in the second leg, despite another valiant second half performance.
A Nicky Marker own goal and a Kevin Phillips effort had Sunderland 2-0 up at half-time. But the 40,0000 crowd at the Stadium of Light were screaming for the final whistle long before the end as only a superb performance by home keeper Lionel Perez kept them ahead.
So, in his short rein, Thompson had taken the club to two semi-finals. But the Blades wanted to go in a different direction and appointed Steve Bruce as their next manager on June 2.