Love United, hate Wilson.
That was the cry of the Blades fans who amassed outside Bramall Lane almost two years ago. Well love him, hate him or quite probably fall somewhere in-between, Danny Wilson’s reign at the helm of Sheffield United FC is over.
Wind the clocks back by just over a year and it would be difficult to have forecast last week’s events. The Blades were cruising their way to automatic promotion from League One, enjoying a substantial points gap over city rivals Sheffield Wednesday (including games in-hand), scoring goals at will (second only in the country to Manchester City) and playing a style of football that many under the age of 25 cannot remember seeing at Bramall Lane.
Alas, it wasn’t to last. Circumstances largely beyond the club’s, or Danny Wilson’s, control conspired to see United face the misery of the play-off lottery once more. And we all know how that ended.
With failure to secure promotion came the inevitable sale of arguably the team’s best players. Matty Lowton and Stephen Quinn were both moved on and the loss of 30+ goals owing to Ched Evans’ imprisonment was always going to be a tall order to replace.
However, for anyone watching the Blades a year ago, the team that has ‘graced’ the Lane this season, whilst not being unrecognisable in personnel, has certainly been unrecognisable in quality. And for me, a large proportion of the blame has to be placed at the manager’s door.
In terms of his transfer policy, Mr Wilson has always been woefully lacking. Bringing in the likes of Clint Hill, Marcus Williams, Chris Porter and Jonathon Forte (to name just a few) highlights just how poor some of his forays into the transfer market have been. It has to be acknowledged that a small budget undeniably has played a part, but a quality lower league manager has the ability to be a ‘wheeler and dealer’. With the exception of Kevin McDonald, Danny Wilson has shown himself to be completely devoid of this quality.
Tactically, during his first season at the helm Wilson’s ‘Plan A’ couldn’t be faulted. Quick tempo, attractive, passing football utilised Kevin McDonald’s ability to full effect and with Matty Lowton often used on the overlap, United also had the ability to spread the ball wide and get round the back of opposition defences. Nevertheless, even in those early promising days, when ‘Plan A’ seemed to be faltering there was never a ‘Plan B’. Poor selection, use of substitutions and tactical changes most notably cost the Blades the Sheffield Derby at Hillsborough and sparked the Owls automatic promotion fight back. This was systematic of a problem which was a feature throughout the campaign.
This season Wilson’s tactical decisions and selection policy have been perplexing at best. Facing teams who come to Bramall Lane with only a draw in mind and put ten or 11 players behind the ball, United have adopted a slow tempo and narrow approach. Easy to defend against and predictable. Evidence of just how poor this policy has been is clear when you realise that before Chris Morgan’s first game in charge the Blades hadn’t scored a home goal since 16 February. For a team called the Blades, the lack of cutting edge has been frightening.
To add insult to injury, the use of Barry Robson on the right wing has been a huge failing. Robson has undoubted quality but would clearly be better utilised in a central position or not at all.
For all these reasons, Danny Wilson was ultimately beginning to live on borrowed time. While sacking a manager with just five games to go in the season seems slightly odd, any close follower of the Blades simply had to admit that promotion in any form was extremely unlikely, without a sizable change in approach.
So enter Chris Morgan. And if the Kevin McCabe was looking for a completely contrasting character to Danny Wilson, he has certainly found it.
A Blades legend, bursting with passion, if ‘Morgs’ can’t inject some life into what has long since looked like a broken and deflated team, then nobody can. Proof certainly seemed to be in the pudding against Swindon with a much more positive display.
Although I was pleased to see Barry Robson relieved of his duties on the wing, I cannot have been the only one to have shuddered when seeing the strike partnership of Chris Porter and Dave Kitson line-up at 3pm. In fairness to Morgs though, the policy of getting crosses into the two big men paid dividends with two headed goals and a comfortable win.
Whether a change in management can see United win all four of their remaining games, which is what is probably required if automatic promotion is to be a possibility, remains to be seen. But however ludicrous sacking a manager with so little of the season left and a probable playoff campaign looming may seem, those who have endured the performances over the past few months and more will empathise with Kevin McCabe’s decision.
All that’s left to be said is, good luck Morgs…you’re going to need it!