BILLY SHARP delivered a withering but honest assessment of former teammates and sounded surprisingly distant from sacked manager Nigel Adkins who you would assume, given their history, he would have a little sympathy.
But the striker gave a ringing endorsement to the club’s Board for making the change and a fanfare for new manager Chris Wilder who like Sharp is a Blade.
“Only 11 players can go out on the pitch but you’ve got to have another 10 who are ready and wanting to come on the pitch and prove people wrong,” said Sharp, appointed club captain immediately after Wilder’s arrival.
“When you’re winning and people aren’t playing it’s a lot easier to keep them happy because in the long term it’s better for everyone financially, for the standard of football.
“I thought team spirit was there in patches but when times were harder I don’t think we had enough leaders and people on the pitch who were driving us forward. Hopefully we can get more of them this year.”
After it became clear that reaching the play-offs was the only remaining route to promotion, Sharp added: “We had enough quality in the squad to get at least into the play-offs. Our aim was to go up top two but when we knew we couldn’t do that we were still thinking we could get in the play-offs. It was disappointing because for me. I don’t think enough people believed we could still do it.”
Asked if he was surprised that Adkins, who signed him four times – at Scunthorpe, Southampton, Reading, on loan, and the Blades – was sacked, Sharp said, rather bluntly: “No, I wasn’t surprised.”
The striker added: "I’ve spoken to Adkins since then. He was disappointed that it didn’t work out but Chris has come in, he’s a Blade and he knows what it means to the club. Hopefully we can have a good start for him and drive the club forward.”
“Fair Play to the Board for bringing him in. The fans have been disappointed and rightly so. It was good for the fans to get a lift. He comes in off a successful season when he romped the league [with Northampton, League Two champions]. Hopefully if he brings the momentum of winning into our squad we can do the same.”
CHRIS BASHAM, one of the few to have impressed last season in what was Sheffield United’s worst finish for 33 years, is close to guaranteeing a central midfield start to the new season.
The 28-year-old signed by Nigel Clough in 2014 on a free transfer from Blackpool, has been used as a central defender and in midfield. But it is the latter role where he has excelled and boss Chris Wilder intends to keep him there.
“I see him as a central midfield player whose got energy,” said Wilder. “He isn't going to kill people with a pass but I think we need some strength, some mobility in there and people who are going to put their foot in. He certainly does that.
“It drives me crazy when people talk about defensive central midfield players, sitting midfield players, goalscoring midfield players. I expect them to be competent in all areas. They've got to win their headers, they've got to win their tackles and they've got to pass the ball forward.
“If they get an opportunity to get inside the box you've got to get them in the box. I don't want him [Basham] out on the right wing, I don't want him out on the right wing. We want him to play in the middle of the park.
“He is a player who is popular with the supporters and he's had a decent season himself. So we hope to get the best out of Chris. He can play right-back, he can play centre-half at a push. If the numbers are down we might have to change his position but, yes, I see central midfield as being his most effective role.”
Wilder is still in the market for players to provide balance, particularly in midfield. He added: “I still believe we need a left-footed central midfield player because I like the balance of a left-footer and a right-footer in there. We have to have that balance through the squad as well. People will say that you should use both [feet] which I completely understand.”
Central defence has been a problem area for the last two seasons and fixing it is a priority. With last season’s captain Jay McEveley, and loanees Alex Baptiste (Middlesbrough) and David Edgar (Birmingham) dispensed with. Edgar, by the way, scored his third goal for Canada in a 2-1 friendly win against Uzbekistan in Austria earlier this month.
“You look at the club over the last two or three years and centre-half is a big position that needs to be covered,” said Wilder. Former Blade Kyle McFadzean, who was relegated from the Championship with MK Dons, Gordon Greer, released by Brighton, and Burnley’s Kevin Long are reported to be targets.
“We talk about the top of the pitch and the quality of the players that we've got who we expect to score goals but we need proper defenders as well that will protect. We're looking to bring three in.”
ANOTHER nine months of League One football awaits. Fixtures will be published on June 22 but someone with much more time on their hands than is good for them has gone to the trouble of producing a spoof set in advance.
So Chris Wilder’s Blades kick-off their promotion campaign at home to Oldham on August 6. No home fixtures over Christmas but two in quick succession at home to Northampton and Oxford United, Wilder’s former clubs, see out the old year and bring in the new.
A derby in the last home match against Chesterfield as United take a bow having clinched promotion. That’s followed by a finale at Charlton who will ponder what might have been had Wilder not been approached at the last minute by United.
These fixtures published on the internet are, of course, fantasy. But let’s hope the outcome is nearer the truth.
Watching Sheffield United last season wasn’t easy, not least in the fashion department. A return to traditional red and white stripes, black shorts and socks has received a unanimous welcome.
But as much as the 125th anniversary outfit of last season drew sharp intakes of shocked breath when Blades fans first saw the white shirts with the thinest of red stripes and red shorts, one local commentator may be taking that revulsion a little too far.
“It won’t necessarily help those inside the shirts to play better,” he said, "but the sickly kit of last season was surely part of the enormous disconnect between players and supporters.” The columnist continued: “First impressions count, not least on the opposition. The subliminal effect of those anaemic shirts of last season must have been projected quite powerfully into the subconscious of visitors to Bramall Lane.”
Rather than sartorial faux pas, I think United's problems may have been more to do with anaemic team performances masterminded by a manager in serial denial who drained every last drop of blood from the veins of a proud club and its supporters.