Slow transition period for Blades
7 September ~ It has been an exciting week for Sheffield United fans off the pitch, less so on it. A turgid 1-0 home defeat to MK Dons was preceded by confirmation that significant investment in the club was imminent. On Tuesday morning it was announced that Saudi Arabian Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was to become 50 per cent owner of the football club. With the fans still slightly in shock, they witnessed a rare penalty shootout victory for United, albeit after a dour 0-0 draw at League Two Scunthorpe in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy.
A press conference prior to today's fixture at Rotherham will set out the detail of Prince Abdullah's "significant" investment, yet fans will remain wary for now, based on the shady characters who have previously inhabited the Blades' boardroom and the varying experiences of clubs such as Portsmouth, Cardiff City and now Hull City.
On the pitch, United are a team in transition. Gone are the senior high earners and recruitment in the last 18 months has focused on younger talent with Lyle Taylor, Florent Cuvelier and former Everton starlet Jose Baxter all incoming since the summer. Combined with academy graduates the team now has an average age of 23. The managerial change and focus on youth means the team was always going to take time to gel and promotion was realistically an outside chance.
Yet the opening game against Notts County gave fans hope, as David Weir's 4-2-3-1 formation alongside sharp passing football provided real excitement. Since then the realisation has dawned that it was a poor County side, reduced to ten men for much of the match, that allowed United to find the space and zip in their play.
Performances since have seen pedestrian passing falter in the final third, with goalscoring chances at a premium and the few that are created spurned. Meanwhile, what was a generally solid defence last season is being breached. Weir is still trying to find his best 11, not helped by the sale of the man he built his formation and plans around. Kevin McDonald, now at Wolves, had been moved into an advanced role playing just off the striker and Blades fans hope that Baxter or Cuvelier will fill that gap once they have settled into the team.
So despite the off-field excitement, Blades fans go into the local derby against Rotherham with dampened expectations. Rotherham have always been viewed relatively fondly by Blades fans, probably more so than any of our other local rivals, but a first league encounter in eight years and the Millers' mouthy manager Steve Evans's attempts to stir things up in the local media might give this fixture some extra bite. Ian Rands