Large squad and defensive frailties proving hard to address
15 August ~ After Sheffield United's 4-0 defeat at Gillingham last Saturday, midfielder Chris Basham said that the players "lacked heart". As a fan you can accept that your team might lack technical ability, more so if you are in League One. Many a player's deficiencies have been overlooked due to a show of effort. However, a lack of desire is deemed unforgivable.
The fact that this was in the first game of the season was even harder to stomach. After the missed opportunity of last season, the appointment of Nigel Adkins as manager found near universal acceptance among Blades fans; even with those who disagreed with Nigel Clough's departure. The upbeat feel of pre-season and positive rhetoric was negated in 90 minutes in the Kent sunshine.
Hamstrung by an over-sized squad, stuffed to the brim with average midfielders, Adkins added wisely brought in Billy Sharp and Conor Sammon, but failed to address defensive frailties, particularly in the centre. It was these, particularly at set pieces, that permeated last season's performances and cost the Blades three of the goals at Gillingham.
There was a hope that he would bring the best out of players who struggled or who were sidelined under Clough, but Saturday perhaps showed he cannot. The arrival of David Edgar on a season-long loan from Birmingham has started to address the problem, but further changes must be limited until he has reduced the size of the squad stockpiled by his predecessor.
Chesterfield, shorn of several key players, are not the side that pushed into the play-offs and took four points off the Blades last season, yet they started the season with a 3-1 comeback win over Barnsley and will provide a stern test for a United side still finding their feet. It took an injury-time header from substitute Neill Collins to scrape a win at Morecambe in the League Cup and a much changed team showed some improvement from last Saturday, but were far from where they ought to be.
Few players have justified a guaranteed start but fans won't mind who plays as long as they see three points and some of the much promised attacking football that was absent under Clough. Too often last season a "must not lose" mentality neutered players and their attacking intent and many have expressed delight at the new manager's positive approach. The stats show that in two games today that transition is proving difficult. Ian Rands