Sheffield United finally shaping up is the positive that can so easily be turned into a negative. The words “too little too late” will be on a great many lips; this after what has proved painfully to be “too much too early” in terms of expectation this season.
But I think there was a genuine uplift for the club as a whole in Nigel Adkins’ team being applauded off last Saturday following what was, at face value, a disappointing 0-0 with Gillingham.
Even without being there, that reception resonated with this column. It showed that the majority are fair-minded fans who simply want to see their commitment reflected on the field – and 18,000 is a heck of a turn-out for a side apparently falling well short.
How you finish a wretched campaign like this one is still tremendously important, not least symbolically. These last two games, good back-to-back home displays including a win over Walsall, have gone a long way to cleansing the atmosphere. They have also steadied the position of the manager and those who are supporting him in the boardroom because, as we all know, a three-year contract means next to nothing these days. Only the severance terms, usually 12 months, really matter.
The fact that two of the next three games are derbies – at Chesterfield on Saturday and then Barnsley at the Lane the following weekend – gives the season more bite than dust even at this late stage. For Adkins, it’s a chance to dig in further.
At this point, it’s worth listening to the man in the opposition dug-out at the Proact, Danny Wilson, the former Blades boss whose sacking co-chairman Kevin McCabe has come to publicly regret.
Reflecting on his former club, Wilson told me recently: “If you give a manager time you’ve got a better chance. There’s a lot of pain because of the position in the league at the moment and the fans will feel it more than anybody. But what’s the next option? Do you start again and get rid of another manager and bring an influx of new players again at a cost?
“That’s the predicament. Or do you take the pain over a year or so and give the manager a chance to build up and develop? In principle, I think that is the correct way. You only have to look at the history of clubs up and down the country that have swapped and found it’s never brought much success. The ones who’ve been patient and stuck behind people, the success has come.”
Wise words. If United do that and reap their reward next season, the board will truly deserve to share the acclaim.