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Slow progress for Speed's Blades

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Paul Fletcher | 00:20 UK time, Sunday, 24 October 2010

At the Keepmoat Stadium.

Sheffield United manager Gary Speed watched his team's 2-0 defeat at Doncaster on Saturday evening from the lofty perch of the press box as he served a touchline ban.

He rarely displayed any outward emotion but the 41-year-old must have been bitterly disappointed by what unfolded below him as his team were punished for an atrocious start and went on to lose for the fifth time in 11 games since Speed succeeded Kevin Blackwell as Blades boss.

At the final whistle Speed remained motionless for several seconds before finally rising from his seat. By then the concourse was packed with supporters, many of whom went to shake his hand. Speed, a polite and dignified man, obliged but it was obvious that mingling with opposition fans was the last thing on his mind.

His team are 18th in a congested Championship table, six points shy of the play-off zone and just four above the bottom three.

With 33 games left in the campaign the success or failure of the Blades' season is yet to be determined, but if Speed's side are to go anywhere close to a repeat of 2009, when United reached the play-off final, a serious improvement is required in several areas.

The Blades backline looked ponderous and uncertain on Saturday, failing on several occasions to clear their lines despite ample opportunities to do so. They have conceded 13 goals since Speed took over and have frequently been punished for individual errors. The opening goal at the Keepmoat Stadium came seconds after a poor header from Nyron Nosworthy.

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Speed was disappointed with the Blades' performance

Matters are even worse at the other end of the pitch, with United finding the net just eight times under Speed. Along with Hull, they are the lowest scorers in the division but the Blades manager did not sound overly concerned as he discussed the lack of goals - pointing out that his side did create several good opportunities at Doncaster.

One of those was crafted by Richard Cresswell, while the striker himself wasted another, scuffing a headed opening horribly wide. Both of them came after the 33-year-old had moved in from the position on the right he has often filled this season to his accustomed centre forward berth following the withdrawal of the ineffective striker Daniel Bogdanovic. It seems a waste to play Cresswell out wide when his stock in trade is scoring goals, not diverting long diagonal balls into dangerous areas.

It has been argued that the Blades are playing a more pleasing brand of football since Speed took over but Doncaster boss Sean O'Driscoll argued after Saturday's match that United had not been pretty to watch. He added that Blades goalkeeper Steve Simonsen had distributed the ball 25 times during the first half, frequently seeking out Cresswell.

What seemed to be of greatest concern to Speed as he discussed the club's current predicament was the lacklustre manner in which his team have started recent games.

"If you are not playing well with your passing and movement then you have got to make up for it on other areas - but the first half on Saturday was unacceptable," said Speed.

"It is important in this league that when you have an off day you make sure you get something out of a game."

He wanted to see more determination and commitment from his players and was quick to add that his team had also started slowly against Burnley and Hull in their previous two games. Speed suggested it is more mental than physical and is considering a change in routine to try to alleviate the problem.

Self-belief is another issue that the Blades boss is trying to address.

"Sometimes I don't think they realise how good they can be," he said after Tuesday's win at Hull. "I really don't."

On Saturday he returned to the same subject, noting: "We are constantly telling them that they are good players but they have to realise that for themselves."

Speed is an intelligent, considered and thoughtful man, who is obviously working extremely hard to succeed in his first managerial role. But so far it is difficult to see that all that much has changed at Bramall Lane since his promotion from assistant manager.

The former Wales international explained that he has been putting in the hours on the training ground to nurture a more fluent style of play and he does have creative players, such as Leon Britton and Mark Yeates.

James Coppinger took advantage of poor defending for his goal. Photograph: PA

Yeates, a peripheral figure under Blackwell, has come to the fore since Speed took over but it is a gentle evolution that seems to be taking place at the Blades, not a radical overhaul. Most United supporters I know were happy to see the back of Blackwell, arguing that his team had become far too defensive, but I suspect many of the same people are yet to be convinced that Speed offers anything significantly different.

It is early days and Speed deserves to be given the time to mould and shape his squad. He is also a young manager who is still finding his feet in a notoriously difficult profession, but he desperately needs his side to put a string of results together to lend some shape and definition to the club's season.

In stark contrast, I doubt whether there are many supporters in Doncaster who are unhappy with their current boss.

O'Driscoll, an experienced manager with a firm idea of how he wants his teams to play, is in his fifth season at Rovers and he has built a side that plays some sensational football.

Chairman John Ryan walked from his seat to the tunnel just before half-time on Saturday and shook the hands of several of his players as they walked off at the break. I felt like joining him after witnessing several sensational passing moves, none finer than the passage of play that led to Rovers second goal, scored by Billy Sharp, shortly before the interval.

Sharp, a lifelong Blades fan and former United player, celebrated by showing a message on his undershirt that said 'Fat lad from Sheffield'. O'Driscoll explained afterwards that he had been teasing his striker during the week by telling him that when he was off form he was nothing more than the message that the striker displayed after scoring. It hinted at O'Driscoll's understanding of the mental side of the game as well as his shrewd tactical understanding.

Several Doncaster players stripped off for a charity calendar photo shoot
earlier in the week but it was the Blades who were frequently exposed on Saturday.

It wasn't exactly X-rated but for Blades supporters it must have been painful viewing. As an unseasonal cold snap hits, they must fear that a long and difficult winter lies in store for their team.

You can follow me throughout the season at


  • Comment number 1.

    The blades in trouble...oh dear, what a pity, never mind!!

    Up the Owls!!!

  • Comment number 2.

    Speed for the sack!

    Another manager under 'pressure' from the media...give him a break!!!

  • Comment number 3.

    The problem with Sheffield United (as i see it from being a fan) stems from poor decisions from the board, in my opition, taking the cheapest option when buying players \ appointing managers or poor decision making i.e Robson or buying poor players \ expensive players i.e Evans.

    Find it incredable when teams who seam to have no money get players from Man city (Cardiff) or keep a good team when in admin (Portsmouth). And yet there are teams who some how get good managers i.e Leicester, and we end up which the cheap opition of blackwell and Speed.

    In regard to Sharp's T-shirt, it was very obvious to every Sheff Utd fans who it was directed at. At the United fans themselves who called him Fat and wanted him out of the club for his lack of goals. It was obvious he was going to score against us.

    Overall, I don't know what the future holds. Knowing Utd, if we go down, we will be straight in to admin, yet the team across the city who has been threaten with admin at least 3 times within the last year, have more than £20M debt and no chance of paying it off, somehow always escape.

  • Comment number 4.

    First off, good blog and great to have a blog on the Blades for a change instead of the tedious Rooney saga.

    I was stunned by yesterday's abysmal display, fair play to Donny, but we were dire in every department. We need to give Speed time, but our squad needs a radical overhaul.
    I see a season of struggle ahead...

  • Comment number 5.

    I've now watched the Blades against Middlesbrough away and now Donny and as an observer it seems to me that the reason we start slowly is that we set up with one up front. I can't understand why we stick to it when it obviously isn't working. I agree with the blog and the commentators on the game yesterday, why did we start by Cresswell wide right and Boggy up front on his own? By the time we changed it in the 2nd half (and improved slightly) we were 2-0 down. I realise you can't go gung ho away from home but with one up, all that happens is the ball just comes straight back. I can't see why he doesn't at least try to start a game with two up and give the opposition defence something to think about. Having said all that, I'm pleased we are trying to play it around and I think we should give Speed the time to get them playing how he wants.

  • Comment number 6.

    Left at half time yesterday it was awful.

    Why we gave stephen quinn an extended 3 year contract is unreal, same goes for creswell who had only just signed for us but is getting on abit now. we sold the best keeper in the championship imo (even though the circumstances i think we had to with his new contract).

    leon britton must be thinking why he came here looking at swanseas league postion..

    we need to stay strong survive this season and ship the dead wood out:
    taylor, quinn, france, kozluk, aksalu and maybe a few more and give the young lads ago and mix it up with some old heads if speed can use his contacts in the game to get players to the lane. worrying times!

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    How can Sheffield United be in so much trouble.

    What has happened to the money they are getting from West Ham ?

  • Comment number 9.

    Interesting to read of Speed's progress so far, hope this people don't get the impression this article is hinting he should be sacked or more seriously people really think he does. Anyway really hope he does well because I think he could be a truly great manager in the future, he's only been there a few months and they weren't doing that great before he became manager, that's why he was given the oppurtunity in the first place. Just calm down and see how the land lies at the end of the season.

  • Comment number 10.

    Who's this article about? Lol. Just kidding really, but if you didn't know who 'The Blades' were you wouldn't find out from reading it. The real name of the club isn't mentioned once.

  • Comment number 11.

    the blog says it all. Speed is making the same mistakes Blackwell did - he's playing players out of their natural position for a start. Secondly, he's slow, and I mean, reeeaaalll slow to spot talent. It's taken him weeks and weeks to recognise that Yeates is the pacy left-wing creative player he'd been going on about looking for in the transfer market. It's taken him a similar length of time to lose patience with Evans and replace him with Bogdanovic. And right now, he can't seem to see that 1 Ertl is a centre back not a midfielder 2 Calve is garbage 3 Ward is a central striker not a winger. These things, obvious to 20,000 or so Blades every game - are oblivious to Speed. Sorry fellas, I like Gary Speed as a bloke and I like what he's trying to do - but he needs to wake his ideas up a bit as well.

  • Comment number 12.

    Now then,

    Thanks for the comments so far. A fair point Sean (post 10) - I've sought to remedy that at the very start of the piece.

    Coplandrdroyal (post 2) - I'm definitely not suggesting Speed should be sacked, nor that he is under serious pressure. I said that he needs to be given a chance and I firmly believe that. I'm just not sure that this season will amount to much for the Blades.

    Spped, as many have pointed out, is a very likeable bloke. I just hope that he has enough edge to him to succeed in management.

  • Comment number 13.

    The tevez money... 15 million probs??

    all gone back to mccabe more than likely,,10418,00.html all out transfer
    activity there shows how bryan robsons appoinment ruined the club.

    beattie carney hendrie naysmith sharp Ehiogu all came in on massive wages and long term contracts and financially ruined the club. if blackwell had won the play off final it would have been ok but then walker and naughton were sold for about 8 million rising to 10 or 12 depending on appearances... then some how man city managed to rob us of 2 million for ched evans!

  • Comment number 14.

    I thought you signed Ched for £3m? However much it was (and with other signings) it just shows how wasteful the blunts were in the transfer market. Unlike us, they had money to spend but the managers at the time couldn't spot the talent. Now the money is drying up Speed has a really difficult job and will have to wheel and deal if he's to improve their squad.

  • Comment number 15.

    It makes me soooo happy!

  • Comment number 16.

    "I thought you signed Ched for £3m?"

    No, that's only taking add ons into account, ie. a maximum fee. I think the initial fee was £750,000. The rest will be like after 20 goals scored- which is obviously never going to happen!

  • Comment number 17.

    Donny Rovers played really well and fully deserved the win!

    United looked a bit poor, and as for the dirty dingle...

  • Comment number 18.

    Undeniably Rovers deserved to win. But don't get carried away; Doncaster were one point above the Blades before the game. So a club under a manager who has been in the hot seat for five years against a inexperienced Speed who has been boss for about five weeks should be the favourite.

    The pre-match build up on BBC2 was terrible. I'm a big fan of the Beeb but the bias towards the home side was ridiculous. And even when Doncaster were generally lumping the ball up the field the boys in the studio still thought they were watching Brazil or Holland at their peak.

    As I said, Donny deserved the victory on the day, the Blades were poor in the first half and only rallied when it was too late. But Blades fans, you can't keep expecting instant results. I'm pretty sure Speedo will get the team on the right tracks so keep off his back.

  • Comment number 19.

    blades fans are always moaning ,i think if they won the league they,d still have awinge about something....they are the the funny breed of the city.if utd were going through what the owls are going through at the moment,they would have something to moan about!credit to all the owls fans that are still going to the games cause we are pants.....but we are true supporters!18,000 in league 1...would the blades get that..mmmmmmmm?x

  • Comment number 20.

    I see that a few Wednesday fans have not been able to resist making a little dig at the current plight of United.

    The thing is, with so much of the season left and such a congested Championship table, just about anything could happen. It looked a couple of weeks ago as though QPR were set to pull away a little but they have slowly been pulled back.

    It has all the makings of an open and fascinating season. Who knows, maybe it will be a good one for United, but from Gary Speed's point of view, he must hope that come the end of it he is no longer moaning about his team's terrible habit of starting games so slowly.

  • Comment number 21.

    I wouldn't be the manager who follows the walking, whinging, out of depth disaster that is Kevin Blackwell for love or money...Season he left Leeds United, relegated, season after he left Luton town, work out the rest Blades fans!

  • Comment number 22.

    @SEAN (Post 10) Did you start reading on word 3? The first two words in the article are Sheffield United.

    @ MARTIN (Post 1) - Come back and laugh when you're above us in the league table/pyramid. Since SWFC were relegated from the premiership I think they have spent 1 weekend above SUFC.

    In relation to the article, interesting read overall. I'm getting worried by the amount of sloppy goals we're conceding and by the amount we're scoring. On paper we have the players to score loads of goals but it's getting to the point now where the players are going to lose confidence and we're gonna get stuck in a rut and then who knows, we could end up as bad as Wednesday.

    We need to sort out the back 4. Shocking goals are getting conceded at the moment and when we go behind in a game you just can't see us getting back into it. (other than the Burnley game.)

  • Comment number 23.

    Oh forgot...

    Would the blades get 18,000 in League 1??

    That is a question that will never be answered because we aren't that bad!

  • Comment number 24.

    Speed's problems stem from still having the like's of Sam Ellis still at the club, a man who has only lower league managerial/ coaching experience and achieved nothing with the three clubs he managed himself.
    Get Tony Daley back as fitness coach also, the players had a lot more stamina when he was at the club.

  • Comment number 25.

    It's very difficult with the contraints of the transfer window for Speed to conduct a radical overhaul. That is why he is trying to polish the players he inherited, indifferent as many are. He has little choice. Give him time.

  • Comment number 26.

    The Blunts 'style' of football suits their club,miserable and dull.

  • Comment number 27.

    Stay up this season while Speed learns his the hard but true fact for us fans, and if he comes through, hopefully we'll have a 'bright new manager' with progressive ideas about how the game should be played rather than more years of endless 'hoof'.

  • Comment number 28.

    First off excellent blog!

    No one works harder for the Blades than Cressy, he always comes off the pitch knackered as he runs his heart out.
    But,like Billy "Bunter" Sharp when he was here, he is played OUT OF POSITION!

    He is a centre forward and shoving him out wide to accomodate the 4-5-1 is nuts.
    4-4-2 Gary please!

  • Comment number 29.

    Message for poster No 10, it says Sheffield United in the 1st two words.

  • Comment number 30.

    Message for poster No 29, read post 12...

  • Comment number 31.

    Unfortunately the Blades have looked poor and very defensive in their TV games this season making the 4-5-1 formation look flawed. However, this same formation up to Saturday could easily have made Utd unbeaten away from home, only 2 bad individual errors at Leeds and Middlesbrough turning decent draws into losses. If the game at Derby had been aired viewers would wonder why we were not in the top 6.
    We have a number of players playing but not 100% fit and 3 of our highest paid players not on the pitch - williamson, Henderson and Montgomery - but in the treatment room.
    If we can hang on in mid-table until their return then the second half of the season could be a lot better. There appears to be no money available for Speed to wheel and deal which will make it tough to cover problem positions - full backs and pace up front - but this is a poor division and doesn't take much to get on a run and get in the play-offs.

  • Comment number 32.

    Trouble is we've had many players that just don't work for the style we've played over the years. Neil Warnock was always buying strikers that could never fit into a team based on heavy pressure, our midfield/defence has never been the same since Jag's left and the remains of our once towering defence is getting old and injury prone. We'll put up a good show , that is when good players aren't being sold off and bought back at loss and then sold yet again.

    As I understood it we had a reasonable youth set up , so where are they?
    There's no plan any more - its short term fixes done on the cheap ( not that price is a bad thing but its not done with a plan in mind that's the problem).


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