Harris hopes wedded bliss leads to professional joy at Sheffield United

NO-ONE at Sheffield United needs reminding what happened in the aftermath of the club’s last failed play-off attempt.

Sheffield United training session, Bob Harris

Defeat over two legs to Yeovil Town in the semi-finals was followed by a truly woeful start to 2013-14 as the Blades picked up just five points from the opening 11 games and David Weir paid the price with his job.

A year earlier, the hangover – United had just lost to Huddersfield Town at Wembley in a marathon penalty shoot-out in 2012 – was nowhere near as bad. Nevertheless, it was still a slow start for a team that went on to finish in the top six again with five of the first seven league games being drawn by Danny Wilson’s men.

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The challenge this time around, of course, is to banish entirely any after-effects of yet another play-off disappointment, Swindon Town this time having ended any hopes of the Yorkshire club going up with last May’s dramatic 7-6 aggregate triumph.

Bob Harris, the United full-back, is adamant that there will be no such problems for the club when the new season kicks off on August 8 with a trip to Gillingham.

“We came back in a few days after the second leg to talk about things,” explained the 27-year-old to The Yorkshire Post this week as pre-season stepped up a gear at the club’s Shirecliffe training base.

“Then, after that, what happened (in the play-offs) was out of our minds. You can’t dwell on things like that. We had the opportunities, over 180 minutes, to get ourselves in the play-off final but we fell short.

“You have just got to use that to make you even hungrier. That was the big thing for me over the summer. I just wanted to get back.”

Harris, who moved to the Lane from Blackpool 18 months ago, may be happy to be back in training with his team-mates.

But the summer did bring one particularly happy occasion as he married Charlotte before heading off on honeymoon.

“It meant it was a busy time with the wedding, the honeymoon and a family holiday,” he said.

“It was great. The honeymoon was in Dubai. But now it is great to be back.”

Another member of Nigel Adkins’ squad delighted to be reunited with his team-mates is goalkeeper Mark Howard.

The 28-year-old, one of the longest-serving players at the Blades, was troubled by injury last term but still managed 50 league and cup appearances.

“We all enjoy getting away but we do miss it,” said the goalkeeper. “The banter with the lads and stuff like that is great, and we miss it on a day-to-day basis.

“It is great being with your family but you have a different mindset when you get up in the morning once back training and playing.”

Like Harris, Howard has returned to a club where several changes have taken place on the coaching side following Adkins’ arrival in place of Nigel Clough.

The new manager has been busy getting to know the squad and Howard knows everyone has to impress.

“We have got to make the gaffer think we are worthy of a starting place,” he added. “We know there is a clean slate. So the harder you work and the better you perform, the greater the opportunity.

“It does give everything an extra edge. We have all got a point to prove. It doesn’t matter what has happened in the past. We all know we’ve got to kick-on.”

Not for the first time since being relegated in 2011, the Blades start the season as favourites to go up. It is a standing Howard is determined the club will live up to.

“We thought the same last year,” replied the goalkeeper when asked about whether the Blades can win promotion. “But we were very inconsistent in terms of our form. There were lads who came in and started well and then faded away a bit, myself included at the end when I was struggling with injury. We were just too inconsistent.”

“There wasn’t a great deal wrong. It was just that inconsistency. We never had a fully settled spine with regards to the centre-backs. Hopefully, the gaffer will sort that out.

“I play just behind them and you can see that the changing of positions imbalances you. We rely on each other. Me on them just as much as they do on me.

“When you are unsettled, it doesn’t help your form.”

United, of course, have appointed a manager with a proven track record of getting out of League One.

Twice, Adkins took Scunthorpe United into the Championship, while he then repeated the trick in 2011 when in charge of Southampton. A year later, he had steered the Saints into the Premier League.

Asked about any changes brought in by the new manager, Howard replied: “There are differences between how things were and how we are doing them now.

“Hopefully, that proves beneficial in the long term. Everyone here is determined to help Sheffield United win promotion.”