Sheffield United: Five key things to look out for in pre-season friendly at Scunthorpe
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As Paul Heckingbottom’s men attempt to preserve their 100 percent record this summer, The Star’s James Shield highlights five things to look out for at Glanford Park.
The New Faces
Anel Ahmedhodzic, Ciaran Clarke and Tommy Doyle will all be hoping to enjoy a run out in north east Lincolnshire. The fixture also provides most United fans with their first real chance of watching them in action, given that the cost of living crisis meant travelling to Portugal was beyond many of them and Tuesday’s meeting with City took place behind closed doors.
Although Scunthorpe, managed by Keith Hill and relegated to the National League last term, are unlikely to pose too much of a footballing test, it will be fascinating to see exactly what the trio can bring to the table.
The Big Choices
With new players finally arriving and the promise of more to follow, Heckingbottom already has some big choices to make ahead of the trip to Vicarage Road.
If Sander Berge remains at Bramall Lane, for instance, who does Doyle partner in midfield? Oliver Norwood or John Fleck? Is Ahmedhodzic a more dynamic proposition than Chris Basham? Who is the best option on the left hand side of United’s rearguard - Clarke or Jack Robinson? After a slow start to his career at the club, Robinson has produced some of his best football since Heckingbottom’s appointment in November and will hope that counts for something when a final decision is made.
Of course, these are exactly the type of choices any manager with genuine aspirations of leading their team to promotion should be facing. Come the end of the season, one suspects all of the above will have enjoyed spells in the starting eleven as injuries and suspensions bite. But the deeper United go into their pre-season programme, the more performances during matches such as this count. And if Max Lowe does remain in situ, having been enticed with the prospect of playing Champions League football for Olympiacos, he must feel as if he has a genuine chance of featuring on a regular basis in order to remain engaged.
Heckingbottom also has a big call to make between the posts too. Wes Foderingham excelled last term. But Adam Davies is unlikely to have agreed a two year contract at United unless he thought there was a real chance of dislodging the former Rangers man. Particularly as he hopes to make the Wales squad for this winter’s World Cup finals in Qatar.
As well as they did under Heckingbottom last season, there were some obvious weaknesses in United’s armoury. Not only in terms of personnel, which their work since the transfer window reopened is designed to remedy. But also in terms of their tactical approach. Otherwise, they would not have conceded two almost identical goals during the course of their ill-fated play-off semi-final against Nottingham Forest.
Without Morgan Gibbs White, now back at Wolverhampton Wanderers, United often appeared a little predictable and ponderous en route to a fifth placed finish in the table. Iliman Ndiaye, now with a season of senior football under his belt, and Doyle, a young but intelligent athlete, should ensure this is not the case next term.
However, other problems need solving too. Either through selections or subtle tactical tweaks.
The way United set-up allowed more accomplished opponents to stifle Norwood, and prevent him from dictating the tempo and direction of their play. This has to change in order to enhance their promotion prospects.
It will be interesting to see if Heckingbottom road tests a plan to try and address this at Scunthorpe.
Every team works hard during pre-season. The same as every team will soon claim to be the fittest in the division.
United suffered a stupid number of fitness issues last season, with Jayden Bogle likely to miss the start of the new campaign as he recovers from injury, Billy Sharp apparenly still edging his way back into peak condition and Rhian Brewster being coaxed through the early stages of their preparations for Watford.
The sheer volume of postponements United suffered over the Christmas period undoubtedly contributed to this. So did a training pitch which wasn’t fit for purpose. Although action to improve the main surface at the Randox Health Academy has just started, it won’t be finished until the autumn.
Tom Little, United’s new head of performance, must weave his magic to ensure the same thing does not happen again.
The United Connection
Despite graduating from Bramall Lane’s youth programme, Glanford Park was where Sharp effectively launched his career; scoring a ridiculous 56 goals in only 95 appearances before transferring back to his boyhood club. Even more bizarre than the decision to sell him in the first place was his treatment after returning to South Yorkshire. Indeed, after leaving again before being signed by Nigel Adkins, Sharp’s current spell at United is the only one which can truly be described as a success. But what a success, having netted 113 times in 266 outings, it has been.
The person responsible for luring Sharp to Scunthorpe, Lee Turnbull, is now acting chairman of the National League club having also enjoyed a brief spell as United head of recruitment.
Turnbull isn’t the only person there who boasts history with the visitors. Elliott Whitehouse has just joined them after leaving Forest Green Rovers, while fellow midfielder Jordan Hallam also represented United. Marcus Dewhurst, their young goalkeeper, was loaned to Scunthorpe earlier this week.