Sheffield United kick off the new League One season with a home match against Shrewsbury Town tomorrow. The Star’s James Shield asked former players Carl Bradshaw and Georges Santos to assess the challenges the side are likely to face between now and the end of April.
James Shield: First, and perhaps most importantly, how to you think Sheffield United will fare this season?
Georges Santos: Do you know what, I actually think this season is going to be tougher than the last. Okay, so they didn’t go up but to get 90 points is still a phenomenal achievement. And it’s going to be hard to better that. Of course, a smaller points total might be enough to do it this year. But they’ve given themselves a lot to live up to. However, there are some very good players there.
Carl Bradshaw: I think they’ll do well. They certainly should do. It goes without saying there are areas that can be improved. There always is. But, if I look at the group of players at Danny Wilson’s disposal, I don’t see much better in that division. Don’t get me wrong. What happened last season was a massive disappointment. There’s no point in lying either. It hurt even more because Sheffield Wednesday did get promoted. There were reasons why we didn’t go up though and everyone knows what they were. But, overall, the lads still did well. Very well in fact.
JS: Do you think defeat in last season’s play-off final will cast a shadow over the new campaign.
CB: No. It can’t. I know people say ‘move on’ and that can be easier said than done. But, at the end of the day, that’s exactly what you’ve got to do. As a player, you can’t afford to mope around and feel sorry for yourself because, if you do, then the only way is down. I know whenever I lost a cup tie I used to think ‘that’s blown it for another year.’ But I didn’t sit around moaning and groaning. You’ve got to be mentally tough. Draw a line and get on with it.
JS: How important is the support of the fans?
GS: I know people laugh when you say it but the supporters really can make a huge difference. Listen, when you aren’t playing well you can understand why they might get on your back. Because you don’t need anyone to tell you that things aren’t going well. But we all know what the crowd can be like at Bramall Lane. How loud it can be. That can only work in United’s favour. United are up there to be shot at now and they’ll have to deal with that. The fans can help them do that too.
CB: Very. There’s no point in getting on Danny’s back. Okay, he’s the manager and he trains the lads and gets them ready for the game.
But, once you step across that line, it’s down to you. As simple as that. It’s footballers who play games. Not managers. So, when there are a few poor results, which there will be across the course of a season, I hope people don’t start having a pop at Danny. That wouldn’t be right.
GS: Different players react differently if they are being criticised. Some don’t take it very well. Others just get more determined. There is nothing wrong with that because teams are made up of different characters.
JS: So where can United improve?
CB: In terms of our midfield, for me, that’s good enough to play in the Championship. I don’t see any better in the division. Goal scoring is always going to be something people look at but, as far as I’m concerned, I’d perhaps like to see another centre-half come in. We could do with a little bit more depth there.
GS: It is good to see them playing football. But it’s always important to remember you have to be tough too. That’s why I like the way Michael Doyle goes about his work. He combines the two sides of the game. when I was playing for United, teams used to hate playing us at Bramall Lane. I know because they said so afterwards. The reason for that was they knew it was going to be 90 minutes of pure battle.
We were physical and always in the opposition’s faces. They knew that, whatever they got, they were going to have to earn the hard way.
CB: I hope we carry on playing football. Not over play. But get back to what we were doing last season. And I’m sure we will because the one thing you can always be sure about with Danny is that his teams will play football the right way.
GS: For me, goals are going to be absolutely key. The players up front are going to have to perform. Ched Evans scored over 30 goals last season and it’s going to be difficult for someone to replicate that. But if you can get two players scoring 20 apiece then it’s as good.
Perhaps better. Also, the centre-halves and midfielders could contribute more in this area.
JS: And which teams do you think will pose the main threat to United’s promotion hopes?
CB: Looking at those who have come down, I reckon Portsmouth, if they can get their house in order, will actually be a danger. It just depends whether they can. But, like I said, I don’t think there’s anyone United should be scared of. Respect, yes. But scared? No.
GS: The teams who were there or thereabouts last season will probably do well again. I’m talking about the likes of Carlisle, MK Dons and probably even Stevenage. Clubs like Carlisle know what this division is all about. They know the qualities you need to be up there challenging.
CB: It won’t be easy though. If you take anything for granted in football then you end up failing. This league won’t be easy for anyone.
Whenever a team comes down they are expected to go straight back up but we know that’s not the case. It didn’t happen to Sheffield Wednesday or Leeds either.
GS: I actually think Preston will be a threat too. They had a poor season last time but they’ve brought in so many new players that they are bound to improve. United are there to be shot at now. That’s how people will view them. They’ve got to be ready for that and respond. And that’s where the fans can help again. To make sure opponents don’t enjoy coming to Bramall Lane.
JS: What would it mean to you, personally, if United go up?
CB: I’d be delighted. Listen, I grew up a United fan and I was lucky enough to play for the club I supported as a boy. I used to go in the old Kids’ Pen on The Kop when my uncle took me. Not only that but I captained them too. That made me so proud. It was Roy of the Rovers stuff for me. To lead the team out at Bramall Lane, well, I felt 10 feet tall. And I’ll say this: If you can’t walk out at Bramall Lane and feel inspired, can’t feel the same way that I did to represent a club like United then, I’m sorry, you’re in the wrong job.
GS: I’d be really, really pleased. Sheffield United is a big part of my life. A very important one. I made some wonderful friends there and I still try and keep in touch with a lot of the lads. The greatest thing about my time there was that we were like one big family. A really strong, tight knit group. We weren’t just a team. We were more than that. It was more than just a football club.
CB: If you look at the support in this city then, in fairness to both clubs, the Championship is the very least it deserves.
Both us and Sheffield Wednesday should arguably be even higher than that. I also hope we go up for Kevin McCabe too. He might have made some mistakes in the past. Haven’t we all. But the one thing you can’t criticise him for is not putting his money where his mouth is. With the amount he’s put in then he deserves promotion too.
GS: If United can go up then, not only would it be great for the city’s economy as a whole, but it would also make it easier for the chairman to sell or bring in new investment. I don’t know if that’s what he wants. But, if it is, then it would be easier. He has put a lot in and won’t like to see us in League One. Just like the rest of the fans.
JS: And finally, if you could say something to the current crop of players, what would it be?
CB: Simple. Just go out there, give everything, get the job done.
GS: Be the very best that you can be. Don’t look back thinking you could have given more.