WITH Simon Grayson having steered Preston North End up via the play-offs last May, Sheffield United manager Nigel Adkins stands alone as this season’s promotion specialist in League One.
The 50-year-old, appointed as Nigel Clough’s successor early last month, has a proven track record of being successful at this level.
Twice he took Scunthorpe United up to the Championship before repeating the trick at the helm of Southampton in 2011. He then took the Saints into the Premier League a year later.
Only Grayson with four previous promotions from League One can compete with such a notable CV, while of his managerial peers this term just Bradford City’s Phil Parkinson – at Colchester United nine years ago – has taken a side up from this level in the past.
That precious experience is something Adkins, fresh from putting his new charges through their paces during the first week of pre-season, intends to make good use of during 2015-16.
“I am not a gambling man on the horses,” said the Blades’ manager yesterday when speaking to The Yorkshire Post at his club’s Shirecliffe training base.
“But people talk about course and distance, and we have obviously got ourselves promoted three times from this division.
“We have been in that environment before and I like to think we can draw on that experience so that, when situations occur to you on the course of a season, you can talk from experience about how we overcome that.”
United, of course, have plenty of experience when it comes to trying to escape League One.
Three times in the past four years, the club have reached the play-offs only to lose out with May bringing the latest of those disappointments when a dramatic two-legged semi-final finished 7-6 to Swindon Town.
Clough, despite leading the League One side to two major cup semi-finals in as many seasons, paid the price for that failure when shown the door a few weeks later.
Adkins’s arrival has raised hopes United can go up at the fifth attempt and the first week of pre-season has been about the new manager getting to know his players.
After undertaking fitness tests at Hallam University on arrival back from the summer, the Blades’ squad spent a few days at Champneys health resort.
Now back in Sheffield, Adkins and his coaching staff are working hard on the training field to instil the methods and thinking that proved so important when Scunthorpe (twice) and Southampton prevailed in the scrap to escape League One.
The new manager is also keen to strengthen, with his key target areas being up front and at the back.
Adkins was giving nothing away yesterday in terms of potential targets but Billy Sharp, who has twice worked with the Birkenhead-born former goalkeeper, is understood to be on his radar with Leeds wanting Jamie Murphy to move in the opposite direction.
Other names have also been linked but, when asked about how many additions he envisaged making, the Blades’ chief said: “I am not going to give you a number but it is fair to say we have to improve the goals and we need to keep more clean sheets.
“What I will say is it was very important to bring Lee Turnbull in (as chief scout). I previously worked with him at Scunthorpe United and I tried to get him at previous clubs on other times, too. He is excellent from my point of view and knows players.
“He is out there, from a scouting point of view. That is very helpful because I can’t be everywhere. He is a trusted guy and he knows both the league we operate in now and the one above.”
Pressed on the speculation surrounding possible signings this summer, Adkins added: “There are players I know that I have spoken with and some I have decided not to offer them something. But those details will remain private.
“There will always be speculation about players and especially players I have worked with in the past. And, especially, players at the top end of the pitch and the defensive end. There has to be a balance to the squad. Obviously, those conversations have been going on behind the scenes and will continue to go on.
“But, first and foremost, we need to understand what we have got. We have a big squad of players and it is important to have a look at those we have got. By that, I mean in game time.”
Ryan Flynn is yet to train due to the Achilles injury that hampered the wideman towards the end of last term, while John Brayford continues to recover from the knee injury that should keep him out until November. Terry Kennedy (knee) is also still out.
Adkins added: “Getting to know everyone in a short space of time has been good and I have really enjoyed it.
“From my point of view, it has been a good start. We now look forward, have another week here training and then start to build into the games. Hopefully, we can stamp our ideas on the group as we all work together to achieve the same objective – winning promotion this season.”