Johnstone’s Paint defeat put writing on wall for sorry Weir

Sheffield United manager David Weir
Sheffield United manager David Weir
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“Things in football can change quickly,” David Weir told the Yorkshire Post at about 2pm yesterday.

A few hours later and the Sheffield United manager was left to reflect on the irony of those words as he was sacked following an abysmal run of results.

It left United searching for their eighth manager in just over three years (following Kevin Blackwell, Gary Speed, John Carver, Micky Adams, Danny Wilson, Chris Morgan and Weir).

While no one was surprised by Weir’s axing, the timing was strange. The former Everton and Rangers centre-half looked a dead man walking when he spoke to the media after Tuesday’s humiliating defeat to League Two strugglers Hartlepool United in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

After spending an hour locked in the dressing room telling some “home truths” to his players, he appeared drained. His usual optimism and positive demeanor were replaced by the weary look of a man resigned to the inevitable. Almost like a boxer out on his feet, you were willing his corner to throw in the towel. His words were defiant, but his body spoke of exhaustion.

Yet the axe did not fall for another three days after 43-year-old Weir had endured some tough questioning in various television, radio and press interviews yesterday afternoon.

The cynics would say coming just a couple of hours before a vital World Cup qualifier at Wembley involving England, the Blades were simply trying to ‘bury’ bad news.

The season had started with such high hopes for the former Everton coach and Scotland international – handed a three-year contract in the summer to transform the Blades’ fortunes – when they beat Notts County 2-1.

The football was slick and produced a feeling of positivity that this could be United’s year after two unsuccessful play-off attempts.

But that August 3 victory was to be Weir’s first and only success. Even United’s first-round progress in the JPT at Scunthorpe United had to come via penalties after a dour 0-0 stalemate.

Lack of goals was the chief culprit – just seven in 13 matches, defender Harry Maguire the top scorer with two. It produced a record of one win, three draws and nine defeats in Weir’s 13 games.

He had introduced a change of tactics. Gone was the more direct game played under Wilson, in its place a more considered approach, building from defence, with the emphasis on passing.

United lacked a cutting edge in attack, though, and without placing emphasis on the percentage game of tossing the ball into the box and hoping a goal will come, clear-cut chances were at a premium.

As each week without a win went by, particularly since the arrival of wealthy new owner Prince Abdullah at the start of last month, the pressure was cranked up on Weir.

It all came to a head on Tuesday. What started as Hartlepool fans gleefully singing ‘You’re getting sacked in the morning’, ended with Blades fans joining in after a sorry home performance.

“I understand fans’ disappointment, results have not been good enough,” Weir said yesterday before news of his demise came through.

“They are obviously not happy with results – you are judged on results – but we are working hard and trying to do the right things.

“I think you have to be honest, that’s part of the job. Honest when things are going good, and honest when they are not going so good. That’s always been the environment I have worked in. When things aren’t good I think you have to say it.”

Prince Abdullah’s arrival certainly changed things at Bramall Lane. Suddenly expectations rose, both inside the club and out, with the influx of the Saudi Arabian prince’s millions.

Weir, though, was always quick to play down any excuses, even if he was ultimately a victim of that raised expectation.

“Expectation is not a bad thing,” he said yesterday. “You can downplay things, look for a negative and give yourself an easy way out, but at Sheffield United you have to be used to high expectations; it’s a big club.

“For the future of the football club I think it’s great. Prince Abdullah is a good person, a serious person, and he wants to be successful.

“Long term to Sheffield United I think he is going to be an asset to the football club.”

While his short tenure in management has not delivered results, Weir believes his time at Bramall Lane has helped him develop as a boss.

“I knew in management you have tough times, that’s the nature of the job,” said Weir.

“It’s been really difficult, there’s no doubt about that.

“I have learned a lot, there’s no doubt about that, an awful lot about myself and the people I work with.

“It’s a great experience for me. I wouldn’t say I have enjoyed all of it, but I have definitely learned from it.

“I have coped as well I can. I would be lying if I said you don’t think about, don’t worry about it. But you try and make it better, that’s the job.

“Football is my life, it has been for a long time.”

It is unlikely this will prove his last job in management. Weir has all the tactical nous required of a coach, and the steep learning curve at the Lane will serve him well in the future.

Elliott Whitehouse has extended his stay at Bootham Crescent after a successful first month on loan from Sheffield United.

The teenage midfielder has started all five of the Minstermen’s games since moving from Bramall Lane. A 24-hour recall option has been included in the deal, allowing the struggling Blades to bring Whitehouse back if required.

richard.hercock@ypn.co.uk