Weir determined to enjoy pressure at fancied Blades

HIGH-PRESSURE situations – whether it be appearing in an Old Firm clash, Merseyside derby or in the blue of Scotland – came with the territory for Sheffield United manager David Weir in his playing days.
David WeirDavid Weir
David Weir

It is a thing his new club also have chapter and verse on, having taken the strain during the past two seasons – and ultimately buckled – under a fair weight of pressure and expectation from those not just predicting, but expecting them to take their departure from League One in double-quick time.

It’s a case of new season, same expectation with the Blades firmly under the glare of the spotlight again in tonight’s televised curtain-raiser to the new Football League season at home to Notts County, with Unitedites desperate for it to be a case of third time lucky in the quest to return to the Championship in 2013-14. Talking of pressure, expect the cameras to also converge around Weir, when he takes his place in the Blades dug-out for the first time in a competitive game, one of six opening weekend fixtures specially chosen to coincide with the 125th anniversary of the Football League with the oldest club in County visiting the oldest ground in the league in Bramall Lane.

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Granted, the presence of Wolverhampton Wanderers and to a lesser extent Bristol City and even Peterborough United in a third tier which looks tougher on paper than last season may take a little of the promotion pressure away from the Blades this time around. But only a little.

Some would say that is not necessarily a bad thing given two much-publicised failures in 
2011-12 and 2012-13 in the pressurised environment of chasing an automatic position place and then play-off glory – with the Blades found wanting in the final analysis.

But for Weir, pressure is something to be firmly embraced – and just as he rose to it in his playing career, neither will he be shying away from it as a manager.

The 43-year-old, appointed as Blades manager on a three-year-deal in June, said: “Some people enjoy pressure, some don’t. It’s up to us to want to enjoy that and want to be the team that expects to win and wants to win.

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“Because that tells you something about yourself and what you have been doing. You have to handle that and enjoy that.

“Obviously, Sheffield United have been and are a big scalp and that’s something we have got to adjust to and manage to be successful.

“When we first came in, we addressed it (what happened last season) and obviously it’s been a disappointment for the past few years and you can’t pretend that hasn’t happened. But it’s a new regime and new change and fresh start and the players have to shake that off. There’s nothing as sure in football as that you have disappointments. It’s how you respond to that.”

Fully relishing his first league game as Blades boss, he added: “I am excited. It’s been a long build-up; six or seven weeks of training and looking forward to this occasion. It’s a nice feeling.

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“We’ve done our work and everyone knows their jobs. But it’s not all about Friday, but about progression and getting to where we want to be.”

On finalising his first competitive line-up, Weir admits to facing several selection dilemmas – most notably in goal where he must choice between highly-rated teenager George Long and fit-again Mark Howard.

One decision he was happy to publically confirm and give the reasoning behind was the decision to stick with midfielder Michael Doyle as first-team captain – admitting anything else would have been ‘a slap in the face’ for the Dubliner according to Weir.

On Doyle, Weir said: “Since the moment I have come in, he’s been fantastic. He’s been a real leader and obviously got great experience in the Football League and higher. I just thought he was the right man for the job. He has done nothing at all for me to not make him captain.

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“For me to take it off him and give it to someone would be a bit of a slap in the face for him. I genuinely think he’s warranted it based on how he’s acted and played since I’ve been here.”

In the past few seasons, the likes of academy talents Long and Harry Maguire have made a seamless progression up to the first-team, with Weir admitting a host of other young players eager to make the step up have been busy pushing themselves to the forefront of his mind this pre-season.

He added: “The door is open. There’s a clean slate here and I understand the benefit of youth and I have seen some young players come in and do well and the team will be picked on merit. There will be no other agenda.”

David Unsworth has left his post as head of the Blades academy coaching, the club have confirmed.

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Team news: Manager David Weir reports a full squad apart from Tony McMahon, sidelined with a twisted ankle sustained in the recent friendly at York City. Weir does have a number of selection dilemmas, most notably in goal where George Long is competing with Mark Howard. Febian Brandy, Lyle Taylor, Stephen McGinn, Sean McGinty, Jasper Johns and Conor Coady will be hoping to make their debuts.

Last six games: Sheffield United LWDLLD; Notts County DWWLLL.

Last time out: Sheffield United 1 Notts County 1; League One; Sat, Sept 29, 2012.

Referee: K Stroud (Dorset).