Slow progress for Speed's Blades
At the Keepmoat Stadium.
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.
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.