James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Tough love required

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A kick-up the a**e and an arm around the shoulder. Two things Sheffield United seem in desperate need of right now.

Nine defeats in 13 outings has inevitably taken its toll on confidence within its squad.

Footballers, whatever some armchair pundits might like to believe, are humans after all. Handsomely paid but with the same frailties as the rest of us.

Only the blackest of hearts or cruellest internet troll will, irrespective of loyalty or motivation, refuse to empathise with the plight of David Weir and his players. Only those who patrol a touchline can be surrounded by thousands of people yet still feel like the loneliest person in the world.

Nevertheless, as former United and Coventry City centre-forward Patrick Suffo explains on these pages, it is time for everyone connected with the team to stand-up and be counted.

The seemingly never-ending stream of dressing room inquests - it was approaching eleven o’clock when Weir’s charges emerged following Tuesday’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy defeat by Hartlepool - can not be allowed to continue. Because, quite simply, they only serve the highlight that something inside its walls has gone wrong.

Especially when, as Michael Doyle acknowledged afterwards, application rather than aptitude was the main topic of conversation. Lack of ability is excusable. Failing to put in a shift, leaving room for doubt among colleagues or allowing a manager to shoulder all of the blame is not.

So the decision by some to cast United’s captain as the pantomime villain in this miserable piece is curious.

Doyle will enter Sunday’s League One fixture against City knowing that, even if the visitors prevail, many will claim they did so despite his presence. (A contest which, bizarrely, is being allowed to go ahead a during an international break).

Strange, not to mention a shame because, wherever you stand on his contributions this term, Doyle is always ready to confront the media whatever United’s result.

Speak honestly and refuse to make excuses. Qualities we are told folk want their heroes to display. Unless, apparently, it does not fit the agenda.

*Twitter: @JamesShield1