Sheffield United viewpoint: Faith repaid as Blades kids shine
Doncaster Rovers manager Darren Ferguson might have found little to recommend this game but, only a short square pass across the technical area, it made compelling viewing for Nigel Adkins and his staff.
Because the result which ensured Sheffield United enter tomorrow’s game against Bury with their hopes of securing play-off qualification still intact was achieved by a team which, despite raising eyebrows beforehand, provided a fascinating insight into what the future might hold at Bramall Lane.
Teenagers Louis Reed, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Che Adams were still kicking balls around the primary schoolyard when the Doncaster Rovers chief turned his hand to management nine years ago.
But they were mature, efficacious and, as Adams demonstrated when he scored the contest’s only goal during the dying embers of the first-half, influential here. Albeit in distinct ways and to different degrees.
“The gaffer put us out there because he knows what we can do and I think we proved it for him,” Adams said. “The most important thing, though, was that we won.
“It’s a great local derby and you always want to come out on top in those. It keeps us right in the hunt (for top six qualification) too which is good.”
Saturday’s meeting, which saw United climb to eighth in the League One table and left Rovers languishing nine places below in 17th, not only marked Calvert-Lewin’s first senior start for his parent club.
It also, as he acknowledged afterwards, provided the perfect opportunity to guage the progress Adams has made since joining United from Ilkeston before the corresponding fixture last term.
Fifteen months, 38 appearances and a Capital One Cup semi-final later, Adkins’ determination to teach him “what it means to be a professional” suggests that, despite making rapid progress on the pitch, Adams remains prone to the odd hiccup behind the scenes.
However, tormenting Rovers’ defence throughout, he demonstrated exactly why Adkins feels compelled to persevere.
“I can remember I signed on the Friday and then found myself on the bench here less than a day later,” Adams said.
“It’s crazy what has happened. I’m enjoying my football. I know I’ll carry on doing that. The past few weeks have been hard because I’ve not been playing but now I’m back and I want to make an impression.”
“The management team keeps us focused,” he added. “That’s good because it’s the right thing to do.”
Ferguson, who apologised for Rovers’ performance, suggested a shortage of intensity had been the major factor behind his team’s demise.
However, as Adams later revealed, a tactical oversight was also responsible.
“I find it much easier playing against a three, which they had, because it’s easier to expose. There was lots of space in behind and that’s where I like to work.”
The introduction of Adams, Reed and Calvert-Lewin equipped United with a dynamism they have lacked in recent weeks.
Reed should have embellished his impressive display by doubling the visitors’ lead after being released by Adams with 11 minutes left while Calvert-Lewin went close while the scoreline remained deadlocked.
But, with Adkins now wrestling with the dilemma of whether to recall the likes of Chris Basham and Paul Coutts at Gigg Lane, there were important contributions from more senior members of his squad too.
Centre-halves David Edgar and Neill Collins went about their business decisively while Jose Baxter, who has little or no interest in chasing material reward, once again showed ordinary individuals are capable of doing extraordinary things.
The pass which allowed Adams to claim his eighth of the campaign was a peach. But not, it transpired, a piece of inspired improvisation.
“We always work on that with Dean Wilkins, the first team coach, during training,” Adams said. “I know, when Jose gets on the ball, he can find me with any type of pass.”
Make no mistake, United were not perfect. With a little more intensity, they could have won by more but with their leading goalscorer Billy Sharp watching from the stands, it is something upon which Adkins can build.
Sharp was scheduled to make his 100th career appearance for United against another club for whom he also excelled before succumbing to a troublesome foot complaint.
Adams said: “I thought I was going to get a goal. I just felt it was going to happen.
“A couple of the lads, and Billy included, told me he knew I’d get one. It’s been a while. Billy said he had a feeling.”