NIGEL ADKINS was back to his ebullient best as the Press descended on Shirecliffe yesterday ahead of the weekend’s derby at Doncaster. But it didn’t make too much sense.
Sheffield United’s season has reached a pivotal moment and could so easily implode. You would never have known it listening to the Blades manager who only a few days ago finally admitted automatic promotion was out of reach.
Instead Adkins ran through his customary repertoire of stating the blindingly obvious interspersed with a jumble of now well-worn phrases which mean little and fail to address the central concern. His squad of players is not fit for purpose. Adkins problem, of course, is that he knows this and there is nothing left to say without giving the game away. The January transfer window has passed and not a single addition to help get the club’s promotion bid back on track.
Despite the fury that was created amongst supporters there has not been any response or explanation from either club owner Kevin McCabe or Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud whose relationship is rumoured to be cooling.
You can’t help but feel that Adkins, a likeable and loyal individual, has been left exposed and effectively hung out to dry for failure in the boardroom to grasp the seriousness of the current situation.
Adkins, who in an earlier interview had uncharacteristically dodged questions about the support he was receiving from his employers, was at pains to point out this time that the owners were supportive of him. He also felt the need to volunteer that he has a three-year contract.
The manager this week set a target of 11 wins from United’s remaining 17 fixtures, starting at Doncaster, to ensure a play-off place. Given the inconsistency and shortcomings in midfield and defence which has led to United’s dilemma in the first place, that’s a tall order. It’s almost as if Adkins can’t wait until the summer when he can clear out the majority of his first team squad and build another one in his image. Who could blame him. Maybe that is the owners’ view, too. It would shed light on a great deal.
If there is unrest between McCabe and Prince Abdullah ,who may be considering his continued commitment, that could explain, though not endorse, United’s hesitance and ultimate failure to spend in January.
Promotion or not it is clear that Adkins is going to have to start a major rebuilding programme the moment the final whistle is sounded this season. Such has been United’s decline, the current group is certainly not good enough to lace the boots of the Championship and a failure to escape League One at the fifth attempt would speak for itself. Tellingly, he said: "The past seven or eight months have been very beneficial because I understand the club more now."
Demolition and rebuilding isn’t an activity for those wishing to save money. It's also dirty work. The United manager, however, has to make a stand when the time comes otherwise the job isn’t worth doing and Blades fans will face more of the same.
In the meantime, Adkins needs to brush up on his interview technique because as engaging a person as he is, it doesn’t do him any favours. Particularly in his current predicament. In fact it sounds desperate and is losing traction with supporters. More of the same and another couple of defeats it could turn nasty.
Talking prior to the trip to Doncaster and on the back of United’s sixth home defeat – the Blades have now dropped 22 points at home – he said: “Training on Tuesday was good. Listen, we’ve got to respond.
“I’ve talked about it on several occasions, I’ve got a good bunch of lads who train hard and desperately want to do well. Talk about all you want to do on the training ground you are measured in the arena. That’s where we have to go and do it and we have to pick results up.
“The last two games we’ve not scored in so that is something we have got to address. You know we’re working hard but we should be working hard. At the end of the day we have got to get results, we’ve got to get performances and we have to give the crowd something to be happy about and we’ve got to just keep working at it.”
Responding to the fact United have only won once in 2016, Adkins said: We’ve had a couple of draws haven’t we. I’ve talked about our desire to make sure we keep some more clean sheets. I think we have demonstrated that from a solidity point of view although we have conceded, on occasions, goals and we’ve scored goals. Listen we’ve just got to find a way to win the next game which is a derby game at the weekend isn’t it?
There was, of course, the inevitable “it’s all about scoring goals at one end and keeping them out at the other”. Need I go on?
Amongst the confusing jumble Adkins did, however, make a good point which reflects a fundamental misjudgment last summer aided and abetted by people at the club who should have known better.
PACE AND MOVEMENT
Explaining his original desire to play the ball out from the back with pace and movement and use possession as a weapon to score goals, Adkins added: “Likewise the opposition are going to nullify that and stop you doing it and we have got to make sure we have the right players who can go and do it, a spirit to enable you to go and do things as well.
“I suppose like anything it takes a period of time to stamp that authority throughout the football club, where you know you are in a position where you are not going to go up and you’re not going to go down. You have a bit more time to stamp a way of playing.
“I want the youngsters to come through the system but I suppose at this moment in time ours is all about results because of the desire and the need and frustration of being in this division for so many years. We’ve just got to scramble the points and get them as best as we can.
“I want us to build from the back and play through but it may just take a bit more time than where we are now.”
So there you have it. Adkins wants to deliver the style of football all Blades fans would dearly love to see. The kind he promised in the summer before a ball had been kicked because he mistakenly believed he had inherited a squad, with key additions, capable of doing just that.
Now he says he needs players with the ability and character to follow that through which by inference Adkins is admitting he hasn’t got at his disposal, and which includes the majority of those he signed himself. Time to put it right is something else he doesn’t have so the remainder of this campaign is all about crossing fingers and hoping for the best.
That’s something we can all agree on.