HE’S BACK. Neil Warnock has returned to South Yorkshire to try and keep struggling Rotherham United in the Championship.
Given the Millers’ precarious position five points from safety and a daunting fixture list against many of the division’s top-half clubs, it may prove to be a bridge too far for even the former Sheffield United boss. But it would be foolish to bet against the man who has a reputation for pulling clubs up by their bootstraps. Which, just for discussion’s sake, makes one wonder what the ‘Warnock Effect’ would do for the Blades at this critical point in the season.
Presented with the hypothetical option, and as controversial as it may be, how many fans at Bramall Lane would have more faith in manager Nigel Adkins ensuring a play-off place over the remaining 16 matches of the campaign as against our Neil?
Indeed, would Rotherham fans prefer to have Adkins at the helm to try and keep them afloat? An educated guess says the Millers are happy with their new man who began his fire-fighting exercise with a 0-0 home draw against promotion hopefuls Birmingham despite the Millers finishing with nine men.. As for Blades, well Warnock always did split opinion but it’s realistic to assume today it would be about 70-30 against – which in itself is concerning – rising in Warnock’s favour should United stumble further.
If either of those presumptions are correct it would surely make Adkins and his employers a little uneasy. Even more so if the status quo for both clubs remains come May.
It is mischievous to speculate, but let’s do just that. Warnock has long since patched up his differences with long-time assistant and No2 at the Lane, Kevin Blackwell, who quit without telling him face-to-face, to manage Leeds.
Blackwell, of course, returned to take charge of the Blades. As irony would have it, he was suddenly sacked only two matches into the Championship season of 2010-11 after a 3-0 defeat to Warnock’s QPR at Bramall Lane.
The pair are now charged with maintaining Rotherham’s Championship status and avoiding the financial loss and difficulties of life in League One which the Blades are only too well aware. It’s a chastening fact, and with all due respect to the Millers, that Rotherham, with all their limitations, have been at a higher level than the Blades for two seasons.
So what would Warnock/Blackwell be likely to bring to the Lane for the remainder of another frustrating campaign? Saturday's welcome 1-0 win at Doncaster was only the second in 2016. Well, for starters the usual suspects who go missing on match days would be exposed. A good number may suddenly find life had become uncomfortable. I’m thinking of the likes of on-loan striker Conor Sammon whose complacency would just not be tolerated.
Some might even become the players they were supposed to be. Chris Basham, who can look promising one week, a headless chicken the next, is the type who would thrive under Warnock and maybe become the team's missing leader. Che Adams and Louis Reed would surely grow with new responsibility thrust upon them. Jose Baxter more influential.
The same United who let opposing teams play at the Lane, would impose themselves. It might not be pretty, but effective. If they lapsed into the type of first-half performances which have become commonplace this season, there would be a marked reaction after the break. Say what you will about Warnock but he knows how to stamp out complacency in the dressing room and reinvent team spirit.
Bramall Lane would likely become the intimidating place it can be. Mediocre teams, and let’s face it most are, that have taken away 22 points between them this season, would not have such a welcome.
Of course, it might all end in tears but it’s unlikely United would submit with a whimper. It may even help stem a haemorrhage of season ticket sales that would inevitably follow after five miserable years of third tier football.
Try as he might, Adkins is unlikely to extract such a transformation in the time remaining. He isn't that sort of manager. If United are to make the play-offs it will be the nail-biting, frustrating fare Blades fans are used to. In other words more of the same and keep everything crossed.
But for an unlikely turn-around, next season, when he has built a squad of his own, is when Adkins will be judged. But come February 2017, should United find themselves five points short of the play-offs…