Blades turn to the Adkins diet in recipe for League One success
If Sheffield United, 7/4 promotion favourites with Coral from League One for next season, fail to go up at the fifth time of asking, then the Steel City side shall endure their longest time outside of English football’s top two tiers.
The Blades have turned to former Scunthorpe United, Southampton and Reading boss Nigel Adkins to stop the rot, handing him a three-year contract during which time he must steer them back into the Championship. With the Saints, he earned back-to-back promotions from this level to the Premier League, and that excellent work has definitely been a factor in his appointment.
Everyone connected with the red half of Sheffield is desperate to see them become resurgent and, while the cup exploits of the Neil Warnock era were replicated by Adkins’ predecessor Nigel Clough, they came up short in this term’s promotion push, enduring even more play-off pain as a result.
In Adkins they have a manager who has got out of League One in every fashion possible. With Scunthorpe, he first scooped the title in 2006/07 and later won at Wembley in 2009 before Southampton came calling. As Saints boss, a runners-up spot behind Brighton and Hove Albion was good enough in 2010/11.
By hook or by crook, the Blades want out of this division, and there’s almost nobody out there better qualified or proven at doing that than Adkins. He can expect a handsome budget, though this financial muscle has not helped his predecessors.
Yorkshire derby foes Barnsley, Bradford City (boss Phil Parkinson was courted for the Bramall Lane vacancy, but refused permission) and Doncaster Rovers, plus Roses rivals Wigan Athletic, who infamously relegated United from the Premier League in 2006, are all expected to feature in the promotion race.
The likes of Peterborough United, recently relegated Millwall and play-off conquerors Swindon Town, who ultimately failed too by losing to Preston North End at Wembley, will also come again.
That makes for a seven or eight-horse title race, and only two teams go up automatically. It’s going to be tight, and the Blades have already opted to release experienced duo Ben Davies and club captain Michael Doyle.
Three more senior players, Scottish defenders Jay McEveley and Neil Collins plus striker Michael Higdon, are all out of contract at Bramall Lane to boot.
Adkins may also need a new goalie as both Iain Turner and number one Mark Howard know their deals are up, but the biggest miss of all could be losing left back Bob Harris. There’s also the absence of Jose Baxter to consider; who has gone from once being billed as the next Wayne Rooney while at Everton to failing a drugs test in Sheffield.
Some of these problems may be solved by adhering to a modern twist on an old adage; if you can’t beat them, get theirs players to join you. Swindon stopper Wes Foderingham and top scorer Andy Williams are both available on free transfers.
MK Dons pair Will Grigg, on loan from Brentford, and former Blades defender Kyle McFadzean, meanwhile, starred at either end of the field in their automatic promotion campaign this term, but have on their left on their respective contracts at Griffin Park and Stadium:mk.
If Northern Ireland frontman Grigg is not part of new bees boss Marinus Dijkhuizen’s plans, and Dons counterpart Karl Robinson doesn’t want to risk losing McFadzean, whose brother Callum is still on the books at Bramall Lane until July 1st, for nothing next summer, then both may opt to stay in League One.
One thing’s for sure; Sheffield United will have to live up to their billing as 11/2 title favourites under Adkins.