Chris Morgan and Mick Wadsworth prepared for tonight’s visit to Peterborough unsure whether this be their final game in charge of Sheffield United or if they will even be patrolling the touchline at London Road, writes James Shield.
Privately, many members of the South Yorkshire club’s squad would not have been adverse to seeing them appointed on a permanent basis. But, when they are forced to relinquish control, then the architects of last weekend’s victory over Port Vale can depart knowing they command the dressing room’s respect.
“Morgs has got us back on track,” Michael Doyle, the United captain, said. “He’s galvanised us, helped us to regroup.
“Mick has been brilliant as well. It was great to finally get a positive outcome because it was our way of paying them back for all their hard work.”
Morgan, who made nearly 300 appearances for United as a player before sustaining a career-ending knee injury in 2010, began his second spell as caretaker manager 11 days ago when David Weir paid the price for a wretched sequence of results.
Wadsworth, who rose to prominence in coaching circles after joining England’s backroom staff before following mentor Sir Bobby Robson to Newcastle, was appointed as his assistant 48 hours before Doyle’s goal delivered United’s first victory since the opening weekend of the League One campaign.
“Mick sat down next to me just before kick-off and gave me a bit of a pep talk,” the midfielder revealed. “That was really appreciated and I probably needed it too because, with everything that’s gone on, I was probably feeling a bit low.
“I’ve never met him before he came here but he told me to go back to doing the things I’d done in matches when he’s seen me play.
“He just reminded me ‘Be what you are. Go out there and be a leader and control things in the middle of the park.’ Really, it was about going back to basics and also a little ‘pick-me-up.’
“Mick’s previous record and reputation speaks for itself so, when he came over to talk, it meant a lot.”
“Everyone here knows what Morgs’ stature is,” Doyle continued. “And the players think exactly the same about him as the fans.
“He’s such a good person and so committed to this place. He’s the type of guy you just want to do well for and he brings a lot in terms of football too.”
Morgan’s most obvious achievement has been to improve United’s performance in front of goal. Under his tutelage they average exactly two per game compared to 0.53 in the 13 before.
Those increased returns have been attributed to a tactical tweak which has seen United revert to a tried and tested 4-4-2 formation but, Doyle insisted, the ideas Weir was attempting to implement have not been cast aside.
Indeed, Bramall Lane’s board of directors, who are poised to unveil the 43-year-old’s permanent replacement ahead of Saturday’s game against Crewe Alexandra, viewed a willingness to embrace many aspects of Weir’s philosophy as a prerequisite before compiling their short-list for the vacant role.
Although Leyton Orient’s Russell Slade, Richie Barker of Crawley Town and MK Dons’ Karl Robinson all boast admirers among United’s hierarchy, Nigel Clough is expected to be confirmed in post shortly.
Previously of Burton Albion and Derby County, he watched Alexandra overcome Bristol City at Gresty Road rather than observe the meeting with Micky Adams’ side.
“If anything, Morgs is trying to keep us passing the football and doing the same things we were always doing,” Doyle said. “He wants us to play passing football but with steel and grit. The same qualities he had as a player.”
Peterborough, 18 places above United in the League One table, will pose a much more strenuous test than Vale. Their surge to second - a point behind leaders Leyton Orient - has been powered on a prolific attack which sees them enter tonight’s contest having netted 37 times in their previous 16 outings.
Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, who spent a brief spell on loan with United during the 2011/12 campaign, is expected to face his former club after hitting the target against Shrewsbury Town last weekend while Britt Assombalonga and Tyrone Barnett should also feature.
Morgan, speaking at yesterday’s pre-match media briefing, said: “Peterborough are a good team, their recent record and position in the table speaks for itself. But, as we’ve been quick to remind, we’ve got good players here too.
“I thought the lads played like men against Port Vale. We asked them during the build-up, have we got the character? Have we got a team of men?
“We knew we had but all the credit must go to them because they went out there and showed it. Now they’ve got to try and do that all over again.”
“Getting that win (over Vale) was massive for us,” Doyle added. “We’ve been under a lot of pressure and there’s no denying that so, after lots of disappointment, it was probably tinged with a bit of relief.
“We’ve got good players here but we can’t afford to dwell on anything. We’ve just got to concentrate on trying to go out there and repeating the job if we can.
“That’s absolutely key.”