Arguments linger about the decision to part with Nigel Clough – and I will always believe it was extremely harsh – but one thing is beyond question.
The squad Clough left behind has fallen well short this season.
That’s not to say, of course, that it wouldn’t have fared better if Clough had remained. He had signed players who bought into his thinking; the former boss is bound to feel privately that the position would have been a lot rosier.
So it’s all Nigel Adkins’ fault then? This, again, is too simplistic, allowing that Clough’s successor can be said to have fallen just as short – so far – than the team he inherited.
Where did it go wrong in the first half of the season? Well, I wonder if it’s mainly because Adkins read the brochure and believed it.
He was not alone in this respect. This column’s hand is the first to go up. And how many of those supporters who have done a dramatic about-turn on the choice of new manager will admit the same?
Didn’t most of us consider that the Blades had a good squad that should have competed for a top two place last season and that it just needed some minor tweaking? I think the former Scunthorpe,
Southampton and Reading boss looked at the players by reputation, plus their attitude in training (generally good from all we hear) and drew the same conclusion. Not unreasonably, either.
Where Adkins clearly blundered, as may be evident by his targets in January, is in not acting to close the defensive cracks that were glaringly apparent for a good part of last season following the sale of Harry Maguire and Clough’s exiling of Neill Collins.
But it is not just the back line that has been at fault in this campaign. Considering the prized addition of Billy Sharp, on top of Conor Sammon and Martyn Woolford, United have not been entirely convincing going forward, either.
Goals have been on tap but they have not carried the anticipated threat in a League One of considerably lower quality this season.
While Sharp will always be a marksman and has done well, Sammon has not measured up to the target man attributes displayed by loanees Chris O’Grady and Steven Davies last season. Woolford has been on the fringe as a player seemingly similar to others in a bloated squad. There is an imbalance which has left the team short of a being a team and lacking a sense of identity.
Notwithstanding the recent uplift, it all suggests a busy January when Adkins will hope to bring the promised money from the sale of Jamie Murphy (around £1.8m) into play.