Speed could step up after Warnock plays part in Blackwell's departure from Blades

GARY SPEED is the early front-runner for the vacant Sheffield United manager's job following the departure of Kevin Blackwell.

Former Welsh international Speed is currently on the coaching staff at Bramall Lane and was denied permission to speak to Swansea City earlier this summer.

The Blades parted company with Blackwell on Saturday night – just over an hour after suffering a dismal 3-0 home defeat to a Queens Park Rangers.

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Blackwell failed to attend the post-match press conference and refused to answer questions in the car park but a statement issued by the club revealed that both parties had agreed to part company.

"Following the home defeat to QPR, Sheffield United and Kevin Blackwell have jointly agreed to part company with immediate effect, " it said.

"Kevin Blackwell has worked tremendously hard over the last two and a half years and his record in terms of results is equal, if not better, than most previous managers at Bramall Lane.

"He will always have a warm welcome at Sheffield United. However, it is time for us to move on because our ambition remains the same in challenging for promotion, hence this decision to look for a new manager to carry on the work Kevin has been doing."

Speed, 40, is keen to move into management and is highly regarded by chairman Kevin McCabe and chief executive Trevor Birch.

The former Leeds United, Everton, and Newcastle United midfielder joined the Blades from Bolton Wanderers in January 2008 but has not played for nearly two years due to back trouble and had been learning his trade under Blackwell.

With only two fixtures to play between now and September 11, against Middlesbrough next Sunday and Preston North End on August 28, it is thought that Speed could initially be installed as caretaker-manager.

Blackwell, who took over from Bryan Robson in February 2008, had started the season under growing pressure as a result of last season's failure to achieve play-off qualification.

His side managed to draw the opening game against Cardiff City but alarm bells started ringing loudly last Wednesday night when the Blades crashed out of the Carling Cup against League One side Hartlepool United.

With talk of potential foreign investment on the horizon, the Blades have moved quickly in an attempt to restore confidence among supporters.

Season ticket sales have fallen by around 4,000 and Saturday's attendance of 22,651 was less than that attracted by arch-rivals Sheffield Wednesday for their opening game of the League One season.

Chants of 'Blackwell out' had been echoing around Bramall Lane on Saturday although the majority of supporters voted with their feet by heading for the exits long before the end. Ironically, it was former Blades manager Neil Warnock, now in charge of QPR, who helped mastermind the result which helped usher Blackwell towards the exit door.

The pair worked together for many years before Blackwell opted to join Leeds United as a coach in summer 2003.

Warnock was unable to resist a jibe at his former No 2's expense on Saturday night – although news of his departure had not been announced at that stage.

Hitting back at comments made by Blackwell over his spending power at Loftus Road, Warnock said: "I had a laugh with Blacky just before the game about the money I have spent. I said 'Hey, I have signed eight players, Kevin, and it's only two-thirds of what you have spent on Ched Evans."

Blackwell paid 3m to sign Evans from Manchester City last summer and the Welsh international striker has managed just five goals for the club so far.

Evans's poor return, however, was just one of a catalogue of problems that hampered the Blades last season.

Under pressure to reduce the wage bill, prize assets including Kyle Naughton, Kyle Walker and Matthew Kilgallon were sold off. Goalkeeper Paddy Kenny, who controversially joined QPR this summer, was banned for the majority of the season after failing a drugs test, and injuries ravaged the rest of the squad.

The Blades finished eighth after narrowly failing to win promotion to the Premier League 12 months earlier when losing to Burnley at Wembley in the play-off final.

Blackwell had spoken of a 'top-10' finish this season yet was quietly optimistic that his squad, despite being reduced in size to just 22 men, had improved in quality and could get in the play-offs.

Once again, however, there was no sign of good fortune with striker Darius Henderson, new signing Simon Walton and midfielder Lee Williamson all succumbing to long-term injuries over the summer.

For the second game in a row, Blackwell was unable to fill his substitutes' bench against QPR – although recent signings Nyron Nosworthy and Stephen Jordan are both likely to be available in the next two weeks to strengthen the side

Blackwell is the third managerial departure of the new season following the resignations of Martin O'Neill at Aston Villa and Steve Coppell at Bristol City.

It is unclear at this stage whether the Blades plan to retain the services of his assistant Sam Ellis.

LIFE AND TIMES DOWN THE LANE

KEVIN BLACKWELL

AGE: 51

PREVIOUS MANAGERIAL ROLES:

Leeds United (2004-06),

Luton Town (2007-08).

COACHING ROLES:

Huddersfield Town,

Plymouth Argyle, Sheffield

United and Leeds United.

SHEFFIELD UNITED

MANAGERIAL RECORD:

Games: 124.

Won: 53.

Lost: 35.

Draws: 36

APPOINTED FEBRUARY

2008

After replacing Bryan Robson, Blackwell guides the Blades from 17th position to the brink of play-off qualification with a return of

27 points from 14 games.

2008-09

The Blades are pipped to second spot by Birmingham City on the final day of the season and narrowly miss out on promotion to the Premier

League when losing to Burnley in the play-off final.

2009-10

Amid pressure to reduce the wage bill, the Blades sell star players and are hampered by a catalogue of injury problems, finishing five points outside the play-off zone in eighth spot.

2010

Back-to-back defeats against Hartlepool United in the Carling Cup and Queens Park Rangers in the first home game of the season combine

to signal the end of Blackwell's two-and-a-halfyear reign