The league season, ultimately, was a failure. No getting away from that. But for Sheffield United the fundamental issue remained; did the club intend to proceed on the basis of allowing each new manager only one full season?
No getting away from that, either. You can’t “fail” in one season of a near-ish miss surely! It’s even been considerably less in some cases. Nine men have held the reins – in eight years – since the Neil Warnock era ended in 2007.
When do you actually stop this self-harming process and bite the bullet, so to speak? Granted, the fans aren’t happy, justifiably so, and some, inevitably, want a change.
Some, by no means all. United’s board has needed to be stronger than keep bowing to “pressure.” And unless I’m mistaking the signals as I write this, I’m hopeful they won’t. Isn’t it better in the long run if you give it a longer run?
This column nailed its colours to the mast before the play-offs so as not to be swayed. Mind you, at around 8.04pm on Monday it felt the tremors as United crashed 3-0 down to Swindon in the second leg, threatening the most humiliating of all their play-off heartbreaks.
Continue like that and the backlash could have been irresistible.
Instead, Nigel Clough’s players showed remarkable heart and resilience in a quite incredible 5-5 draw that ended with the relative respectability of a 7-6 defeat on aggregate.
Still the same outcome but you felt the manner of it was important to what followed.
No, it still didn’t mask the fact that a squad that should have been good enough, for promotion, hasn’t been good enough; or the long apparent cracks in defence; or hide the argument that United have too often played off the back foot rather than the front. Indeed, five goals in these circumstances was ammunition for that criticism!
Certainly, there is cause for a change of approach next season, at home especially. But a wholesale change of players, which tends to come with a change of manager, cannot be necessary or desirable.
Once the defensive reinforcements Clough speaks of are in place, all the pieces should be there. Minus a few from this season because the squad has been frankly too big, confusing the choice.
There will be scepticism and, initially, a drop in this season’s terrific attendances because that’s what happens when a big club has to spend another year in the third tier. But Clough unfairly carries the baggage of before and the alternative is more disruption, more upheaval – particularly considering the large number of players with personal loyalties to this manager. Not to mention more expense.
And how long would you give the new man? One season?
I had this argument with a supporter in a pub while watching Monday’s unbelievable drama unfold. He wasn’t convinced but I’d like to feel I made him think – just as I wondered whether I’d take a different view from his side of the fence.
Sometimes it’s only when the ball stops rolling that you get some clarity of thought. United’s recent record in managerial terms has represented no sort of clarity at all, so I can only applaud the reformed board if they have drawn a line under that. For now anyway. ____________________________