In the immediate aftermath of the defeat at Swindon I was angry and frustrated.
The clear objective of promotion had not been achieved.
“United need a period of stability, something we’ve lacked with six permanent managers in five years.”Ian Rands
Nigel Clough was quick to extol the positive; progress made, youngsters developed, a fifth place finish, not seventh.
But in light of the money spent and players brought in, it is a relative lack of progress.
United finished four points better than last year, but the points per game under Clough this season is lower, in what is a poorer division with weaker opposition. The 71 points would have been insufficient to make the play-offs in any of the last three seasons.
Clough points towards a hectic season, with fixtures bolstered by cup runs.
Yet the argument of tired players holds little sway when you note that Bristol City had more players who played in at least three quarters of their league fixtures and just 17 making ten or more appearances. By comparison United have 27.
Injuries played a part, but for a manager who stated at the start of the season he wanted a squad of around 18 players supplemented by youth, it highlights a plan gone awry.
The balance of the squad has been skewed with a surplus of midfielders and a gaping hole in central defence, unfixed since Paddy McCarthy’s left in January.
With Andy Butler and Neill Collins blackballed we have had a series of square pegs in round holes and John Branford has seen his natural attacking instincts neutered in a central defensive role.
In 46 games the manager has seemingly failed to identify his preferred starting eleven and each week has seen changes.
With an arrogance, stubbornness and barbed digs at the fans’ expense, Clough’s stock has diminished over the season. His clear failure to address obvious problems, along with a focus on not losing rather than winning have seen fan frustrations build.
Yet with a period of calm reflection I think he should remain manager.
Yes, that is completely at odds with everything I have just said, but the fact is United need a period of stability, something we have lacked with six permanent managers in the last five years.
It also needs him to change.
There is the makings of a decent team there, but it needs a significant number of players to be moved on and five quality additions to provide a central spine to the team.
It needs more open and expansive football to be played. Bristol City and MK Dons were promoted playing Vindaloo football – “We’re gonna score one more than you” – United played in the single goal margins, just as likely to concede as score.
If Clough remains changes need to be immediate, with better pre-season preparation than last season when we opened the season with a starting eleven that hadn’t played together throughout the build-up.
Much will depend on the opening couple of months of the season. The relationship between manager and fans is fractured. Healing will require time that a poor start will not allow.
Read more from Ian Rands at aunitedview.blogspot.co.uk.