Billy Sharp and Che Adams could be charged with the task of firing Sheffield United into the play-offs after Nigel Adkins, the League One club’s manager, unveiled his latest tactical innovation.
Adkins praised the duo’s “chemistry” following last weekend’s victory over Port Vale and, after changing his team’s system before kick-off, is set to continue the experiment when United visit Rochdale on Saturday.
Sharp scored his 15th goal of the season against Robert Page’s side and Adkins said: “You could see there was a chemistry between Billy and Che. That was good to see and really encouraging.
“I’ve changed the shape because I want to keep the two up top and there are different ways to do that. We decided to go with the two wing-backs and dominate the midfield, dominate the ball more. I think it worked pretty well.”
Sharp, previously of Scunthorpe, Southampton and Leeds, is United’s leading goalscorer so far this term. But Adkins, who was forced to compromise some of his attacking principles soon after taking charge in June, has struggled to identify the 30-year-old’s ideal strike-partner with Matt Done, Marc McNulty and Conor Sammon all auditioned for the role before the meeting with Vale.
“They worked well together I thought,” Adkins, analysing the performances of Adams and Sharp, continued. “There were some nice little interchanges between them. Little passages of play when one would lay the ball off and the other one would immediately ‘go’ which was impressive and caused the opposition’s defence lots of problems.”
The search for Sharp’s perfect foil has also taken place alongside Adkins’ attempts to identify a formation which best accommodates the players he inherited after being appointed eight months ago. Having initially painted himself as a sworn disciple of 4-4-2, Adkins recently tested Jose Baxter in a ‘number 10’ role before the midfielder’s suspension following a positive drugs test prompted another re-think with United switching to a back three - Martyn Woolford being employed as wing-back - against Robert Page’s side.
That constant churn behind the scenes, despite being inevitable given the confused nature of United’s first-team squad, has undoubtedly contributed to the inconsistent results which have left them four points off the top six pace.
“We worked at it on the training ground and I think they performed it well,” Adkins said. “We’ll keep looking to improve it and it’s another string to our bow.
“You can talk about tactics all you want but it’s about trying to play quick, attacking passing football. There’s no right or wrong way but the principles are the same. Show good movement, pass the ball well, calmly and with precision to penetrate those lines.”
“Our endeavour is to keep two strikers up front, build the play and effect the play,” Adkins added. “We had some good interlinking work and created chances. The goal we scored was from building at the back with Chris Basham, Che Adams and Dean Hammond getting the ball to Billy.”