So it wasn’t all Nigel Clough’s fault after all.
Last season United flirted with the play-offs for most of the season before cementing fifth place with several weeks to go. Never did they look capable of making a challenge for the top two, or even third or fourth.
With the addition of just three players in the summer – Billy Sharp, Martyn Woolford and Conor Sammon – was it reasonable to expect United to walk the league? And for the last couple of matches only Sharp of those three has been in the starting line up, so we’re actually watching Clough’s team, but with a different manager. This team wasn’t good enough last season, so why should it be now?
There is a valid argument that there is no team in the division this season of the quality of Bristol City, MK Dons or Preston, and Swindon are a shadow of what they were, so by a process of elimination United should be the best team. But of course it doesn’t work like that. Three ‘smaller’ clubs, Gillingham (who did they beat on the first day?), Walsall and Burton, got off to good starts and they have maintained their form.
Meanwhile United have stuttered and stumbled, alternately good and bad. At Oldham they made so many mistakes and bad decisions, but still could and should have won. It was better against Fleetwood but only after a discouraging first half in which the failings of Oldham were repeated, despite the early goal. Quicker in both thought and deed after Nigel Adkins’ half-time words, the only danger then was messing up at the back, which often looks just around the corner. The goals are coming, but too many have gone in at the other end.