AN UNCOMFORTABLE parallel with last season has become a reality that cannot be ignored if Sheffield United are serious about returning to the Championship.
Blades fans want desperately to believe in the rhetoric but know from bitter experience they would only be deceiving themselves.
The crazy 3-3 draw at Wigan this week thrilled those United supporters who who weren’t part of the exodus at the DW Stadium in the 66th minute when Chris McCann gave Wigan a 3-0 lead.
Credit where credit is due. A sensational recovery when all looked lost confounds those critics who question the team’s character. The fact that United put themselves in the position in the first place confirms what the very same sceptics level at them. Co-chairman, Jim Phipps, summed it up perfectly when he tweeted ‘A spirited comeback. Nobody wants to have to come back but you did it. Well done lads’.
Watching United this season, as last, is like visiting the dentist not knowing whether you are going to have a tooth pulled or receive a pat on the back for a clean bill of health.
United are woefully inconsistent. As they were last season. No one, not even manager Nigel Adkins, knows which team is going to turn up. Little has changed which begs the question…why? Given that two managers have tried to crack this particular nut without success, the answer is most likely to be the obvious one. The squad assembled by Clough and tinkered with by Adkins is fundamentally flawed. Put bluntly it is not good enough.
Defensively United are prone to costly, almost schoolboy errors which undermines their progress and belittles their aspirational claims. As was the case last season.
Midfield lacks pace, vision and at times conviction, just as it did in the last campaign. Lack of leadership on the field remains an issue, as it was last season, although fit-again right-back John Brayford is beginning to demonstrate why he should be wearing the captain’s armband.
But for the summer addition of Billy Sharp the forward line, as badly served as it is, ditto last season, remains largely ineffective as chances go begging. Manager Nigel Adkins will probably protest but it appears to many that United occupy a remarkably similar place to that of 2015 with a similar squad demonstrating similar inadequacies. And we all know where that is likely to lead.
To continue the theme of same old, same old, with United 13 points adrift of an automatic promotion place, Adkins this week repeated what his predecessor, Nigel Clough, insisted when they were 12 points short of the mark but having played three matches more. That a top two place is well within reach.
It was laughable then given Clough’s negative approach. Admittedly, under a positive-thinking Adkins, it’s more of a resigned shrug of the shoulders but still unlikely all the same. The phrase ‘grasping at straws’ springs to mind.
United weren’t able to go even close to Clough’s wishful claim, finishing 20 points behind second-placed MK Dons and 28 adrift of champions Bristol City. For Adkins to be right a complete transformation with immediate effect is required. More dramatic than anything seen at Wigan this week. The Blades would have to become the most consistent club in League One and Burton, Walsall, Coventry and Gillingham all implode.
Realistically it is not going to happen. So where does that leaves the Blades? Scrapping for a play-off semi-final place, as they did last season. What happens after that is anyone’s guess.