as the countdown to the new football season draws to a close, football reporter Leon Wobschall gives his verdict on Yorkshire’s clubs and offers his five key things that each team must improve.
HOW Sheffield United fans will be praying that Nigel Adkins’ reputation as a serial promotion fixer in League One is reconfirmed in a critical 2015-16 season for the Blades.
After an eventful yet ultimately disappointing 2014-15 campaign, the task for the new Blades manager is firmly set in stone and glaringly obvious - take the club back to Championship at the first available juncture after a painful and embarrassing four-season spell outside the top two divisions, their longest exile since 1983-84.
Here are five things that Adkins needs to fulfil if the club are not to suffer more abject despair next spring.
1: Sate the appetite of Unitedites not just with a points return, but a winning and attractive brand of football too.
Two thrilling runs to the last four of both domestic cup competitions in the past two years were not enough to save Nigel Clough, despite his commendable achievements in knock-out football which captivated many neutrals and not just Blades’ supporters.
Perhaps just as telling was the deep-seated disappointment from sections of fans in several games towards the end of the season, with the disgruntlement obvious for example with the fare on offer at the final whistle in home defeats to Fleetwood Town, Peterborough United and Crewe Alexandra. That told its own story.
While it is clear that promotion is the non-negotiable for Adkins, whose first competitive appointment comes at the Priestfield Stadium on Saturday. Style points are also required, if the reaction from demanding supporters is anything to go by. Blades fans expect to win, but want to win with a bit of a swagger too, that much is clear.
2: Inject some potency into the attack - and hope Billy Sharp enjoys a successful third spell at S2.
The Blades top-scorers last season were a winger in Jamie Murphy and a deep-lying forward whose favourite position appears to be in the ‘the number ten’ role in Jose Baxter. How the heady days of 1988-89 when Tony Agana and Brian Deane - one of the most lethal strike pairings to have ever set foot outside the top two divisions - fired United to promotion seem an absolute eternity away. How they struck fear in defences across the land.. Adkins has turned to a familiar face who has done the business for him in the past up front in Billy Sharp, who has plundered goals for him at both Southampton and Reading and the Blades chief will need him to deliver - along with a few others.
3: A defensive lieutenant is a must.
With Neill Collins out in the cold last term and Harry Maguire sold to Hull City last summer, the Blades lacked a defensive figurehead and paid the price is some respects. While Deane and Agana famously did the business in front of goal during that fateful 1988-89 campaign, the Blades could also rely on a trusted defensive enforcer in Paul Stancliffe to put his head in where it hurts at the other end and organise the back line. A no-nonsense central defender who can cope with the demands of playing for League One’s biggest name and handle the responsibility and front up in the depths of winter on freezing cold days at the likes of Fleetwood, Colchester and Bury is a must.
4: Sort out the home form.
Last season, the Blades won a decidedly average ten games out of 23 on home soil, which for a side with automatic promotion aspirations was simply not enough - it is six less than they managed in the nearly season of 2011-12 when they were pipped for automatic promotion by city rivals Sheffield Wednesday. The Blades need to find a way to get over the line with more regularity on home soil, not that it is easy with many sides who head to Bramall Lane likely to treat it as something akin to a cup final. But that is the task.
5: End the slow-starting traits.
That particular bugbear proved costly for the Blades in the final analysis last term. In the first half of league games up to the turn of the year, they managed a derisory five in 2014-15. It was a tally which was lamentable, despite the Blades’ plethora of late goals, which was a veritable flood in comparison. Breaking down sides in the first half an hour of games, particularly at home - and alleviating pressure - is pretty high on the ‘to-do’ list in 2015-16.
Don’t miss your guide to The Championship clubs on Wednesday.