A new season, new manager and, for Kieran Wallace, new position to master, writes James Shield.
The former England youth international joined Sheffield United towards the end of last year after impressing in midfield at Ilkeston.
Nine months and one change at the helm later, he travels to Fulham this evening regarded, by Nigel Adkins at least, as a potential solution to the visitors’ problematic left-back role.
“Kieran has been outstanding,” Adkins said. “He had a great pre-season with us after being identified as a member of the under-21 group that we wanted to take a good look at.
“First and foremost, Kieran has got a great attitude about him. He’s eager to improve and learn. But, just as importantly, he’s also a proper footballer who, as far as we are concerned, has shown that he can perform at Football League level both there and at centre-half.”
Unlike Che Adams, who made an explosive start to life in South Yorkshire after also leaving the New Manor Ground, Wallace’s career with United has been more of a slow burn. Signed by Adkins’ predecessor Nigel Clough, he made his debut during December’s game against Fleetwood Town before finishing the campaign on loan at Lincoln.
Although Adkins and his staff, including assistant Andy Crosby and first team coach Dean Wilkins, pride themselves on meticulously planning every aspect of United’s sporting operations, Wallace’s big break was neither premeditated or deliberate.
“Necessity, during pre-season at least, dictated that we put Kieran in defence,” Adkins, speaking ahead of the second round tie at Craven Cottage, said. “What with Harrison (McGahey) being out and a few others too, we were short in that area.
“Initially, Kieran went in a centre-half and he did well. Now he’s gone in at left-back and exactly the same thing has happened there. We kept a clean sheet with him in that position at Morecambe which tells you that he did his job.
“He’s worked so hard to develop the things we’ve asked of him and improve his all-round game which is great to see. He’s part of a crop of very talented young players we have at this football club.”
United secured tonight’s date with Kit Symons’ side after prevailing 1-0, courtesy of a last minute Neill Collins’ header, at the Globe Arena 14 days ago. They make the journey south having won all of their three outings since with Wallace featuring in two of those, including last weekend’s victory over Blackpool.
Ryan Flynn, who recently returned to training following injury, also made a successful transition from midfield to full-back last season. His experiences go someway towards explaining why Wallace’s conversion has been equally smooth.
“If you’ve played further up the pitch then, when you drop back, you’ve got an appreciation of what the players in front of you will want,” Flynn said. “You know the type of balls they are going to want to receive in certain situations and, equally, the tuns they might make.
“It’s very different, definitely, but you also have a little bit of insight into the type of things the person you are marking isn’t going to want you to do as well.”
Wallace, having forged his reputation in the hurly-burly of central midfield, is comfortable on the ball. Adkins, however, has been impressed by another attribute.
“Kieran can get forward really well,” he said. “He’s done well to support his team mates when the chance has come up. He may well go back to midfield in the long run, who knows? Obviously, that’s where he was brought into play and is his usual position.
“But it’s nice to know that we have this type of flexibility in the squad. Because there are going to be times when we need it, without a shadow of a doubt.”
“Obviously, and it goes without saying, that we were pleased to win the game against Blackpool,” Adkins added. “But it shouldn’t be forgotten that we kept a clean sheet which was so, so pleasing.
“Kieran was a part of the back four which kept Blackpool at bay and I thought he looked so solid. He pressed when he could and is clearly improving all the time.
“That willingness to learn is absolutely vital and Kieran has shown that he’s got it.”