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United season review - part three

June 1 2012 at 2:28 PM
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Nick Montgomery

Montgomery’s season was one that never really got going. He was rumoured to be leaving at the end of last season but he ended up staying and started the season as skipper with Chris Morgan out. He began the campaign by playing alongside Michael Doyle at Oldham. It was clear that these two did not work really well together and eventually despite a screamer of a goal at Tranmere, Monty was the one that was taken out as Wilson preferred McDonald and Doyle. When he did play his performances were patchy with the same tackling, tenacity and coverage of ground but the same limited passing, touch and ball retention. Doyle could do the former qualities just as well and the latter negatives, such as the passing, seemed to get worse. Monty picked up quite a few injuries and was never really a regular for the second part of the season. He then was allowed out on loan to Millwall but this ended before it started really as he picked up an injury.
He came back but the arrangements of the loan meant he was not available until the playoffs; he then came on against Stevenage in the semi-final second leg and did alright but when McDonald was out for the playoff final he started against Huddersfield. I have to say this performance was absolutely wretched as he rarely touched the ball and when he did he tossed it away.
I think the time is now right for a parting of the ways. He has been a brilliant servant and has shown a real commitment to this football club but in some ways he actually seems to be getting worse, the older he gets. I am concerned whether any Championship clubs will come for him though as if our friend Neil would have wanted him, he could have taken him by now. I doubt we will get any money for him and should allow him and his agent to negotiate a move. If McDonald/Williamson stay, then he is going to be a sub at best again next year as Doyle has performed well in his position.

Grade E

Stephen Quinn

Quinn’s season began superbly as he was the main man in the opening weeks as he drifted around from the left wing position he often started games into other areas. He came deep and picked up the ball, went in the middle and got into the last third. He made a number of goals and scored a few and really did look a class act in this division with other rival managers lauding him after his impressive performances. I felt that his form dipped around Xmas time and he the rally tailed off and began to become less influential. He started to run out of gas too early in games and also stayed predominantly wide left and was less influential. He had a few shocking games and the crowd started to get on his back a bit. He even was dropped for a few games as we moved into the final stretches of the season (Scunthorpe and also Exeter).
Despite the drop off in form he still set up his fair share of goals and put in some dangerous crosses. Ironically though his play not hitting the heights of earlier in the season probably contributed to him staying at the club as no one came in for him at the transfer window at the end of January. Quinn did have a big resurgence for the playoffs and I thought he was brilliant in both play off games, especially the second leg and then excelled again at Wembley. I had been one of his biggest critics as his form had been so up and down for someone with undoubted ability (touch, passing, ability to get up and down and could score goals) but he came good at the end. No fault could be given to him for our failure to go up. If 3 or 4 more had played like him at Wembley we would have been up. It will be an interesting summer as I have no doubt his performances at the end of the season will see some Championship clubs interested. I think he may want to go as another season at this level would be a waste of a year for him from a career point of view and would hinder his development. If he does go then we cannot begrudge this but from a selfish point of view it would be good if we did hold onto him another season as despite his critics he would still be key in any kind of promotion push.
Grade B

Michael Doyle

Doyle’s performances at the back end of the previous campaign when he arrived from Coventry had been similar to those of Neil Collins. He had been really poor and looked a total waste of resources/wages. He seemed like Monty only worse. Of course he had another 2 years left on his contract which did not exactly fill me with glee. It seemed we already had the same sort of player with the same few qualities and same boatload of weaknesses. However, Doyle began the season fairly well and actually showed attributes I did not think he had. He was a tough tackler and a nasty little so and so (in a good way – although at times I would not have been pleased with some of his theatrics which did contribute to players getting sent off). He also was a better passer than Montgomery and was able to keep the ball with simple but effective passes. He formed a good partnership with Kevin McDonald as they seemed to compliment each others styles really well.
He became a mainstay in the side and with Monty/Morgan out also was appointed team captain and seemed to do a decent job leading the side and spoke well in the press. He ended up playing 43 games and was virtually an ever present. He was nothing flash and at times you could see his limitations, but like Collins his performances at this level were chalk and cheese compared to the previous campaign. I cannot recall that many bad games he had and after Christmas he was very good in a number of games. He also scored a few long range goals. Maybe playing lesser teams helped and it is hard to say if he would be as effective at a higher level as he played for a struggling Coventry side and was not playing higher up the division. However for this level and for what he does, he is an ideal type of player. He is another that will be a certain starter next season. Long term he may not be here but for the next season or so I cannot see why he won’t be involved and is another they may give another year or extend his contract at the end of this season. Like Collins that is never something I thought I would have said 12 months ago.

Grade B

Lee Williamson
Williamson was another that many thought may move on. His poor disciplinary record and also questionable injury/fitness record may have helped in him remaining but I recall there were a few clubs that put out feelers on him last summer. He stayed but began the season on the bench at Oldham as United preferred new signing Ryan Flynn. He did make his first impact when he came on and turned the game against Walsall with an impressive goal, assist and winning a key penalty.
He stayed in the side and combined well with Matt Lowton giving us a strong partnership down the right hand side where we often looked a threat. As the season went on he was able to weigh in with a number of goals and assists. His finishing was very good and I cannot recall many occasions when he did not hit the target. One performance at Preston where he scored two goals were key in the victory. He showed his technical ability, always looked to get it down and play and put some good crosses in to add to his shooting/goalscoring. His corners were a mixed bag to say the least and a number were wasted; being floated or hitting the first man. He became a vital ingredient and a regular as we went on the impressive run either side of Christmas.
The major negative for me was that in the big games when it mattered he did seem to disappear or put in some of his worst performances of the season. He did well against the lesser sides but in games against some of the top sides he often went missing or had games where his touch/passing and general play deserted him. His performances in the vital home game (against Stevenage – cost us the first goal) and also at Wembley were really poor.
Despite this we will still be playing most of these poor sides again next year so you no reason why he would not be successful. His finishing is very good and he is a good footballer and too good for this level. He could easily play for many Championship sides and his injury/disciplinary record was not an issue for the first time with the club. I am unsure whether he will accept a new deal. I suppose it depends what we have offered him. He said he wants to stay but money talks and I would not be surprised if he did move on. Like with Quinn (and McDonald) if we want to have another shot at it next year then we need to hold onto him.

Grade B-

Kevin McDonald

McDonald had seen a promising start to his career disappear as he was effectively left on the scrapheap after being released by Burnley. He had been part of their promotion/Premiership squad and had been seen as a real talent (remember 2 goals v Arsenal in the league cup) after coming down from Scotland. He never really was part of new manager Eddie Howe’s plans and after less than successful spells out on loan (Notts County) he left Turf Moor. He never found a club over the summer and actually came on trial before eventually signing and making his debut I the first home game against Brentford.
He stood out as someone who was very tall, quite imposing but more than that very cultured on the ball. He had a lovely range of passing and never seemed rush. He could go long and short and he pinged the ball around with ease. It was great to finally see this sort of player in a Blades shirt after the much hyped incomers of Britton, Howard, Harper did not work out. The one major knock on him was hit fitness as he struggled to last full games, get up and down as much as you would like in a midfielder and sometimes that left us vulnerable defensively. Still his strengths far outweighed his weaknesses. It would have been nice if he had chipped in with a few more goal as his ability should see him score more than the few he did register.
As the season went on he was a vital cog and his supply to Evans, Lowton, Williamson saw many chances and goals come about. He stood out like a beacon at this level with his first touch and vision.
When he got injured and missed games against Wednesday and quite a few others we really missed him and his absence coincided with a dip in form. He came back and seemed to help us get over the line but he once again got injured in the playoffs and was not available at Wembley. Unsure nature of injury but would have liked to have seen him just give it a go at Wembley (may sound daft as it may have been torn I suppose) but him at 50% is better than Monty at 100%. He seemed to struggle with his hamstring much of closing stages of season and pulled up a few times. It never seemed right after he injured it.
We have offered him a new contract and it is imperative that him over all the rest that are 50/50 whether they stay or go, does remain at the club. With him in the side, if we get some fresh blood up front we can create and score a lot of goals again next season. My gut feeling is he may have done enough to get a move back up the pyramid and he may decide another year in league one, like with Quinn and Williamson, is a bit of a waste of year. Be nice if he valued loyalty as we gave him a chance to get his career back on track but sadly money talks. I would offer him a long term, 3 or 4 year with incentives on games played but probably wages wise we won’t be able to compete with other sides.

Grade B+

Ryan Flynn

Flynn was our only cash signing in the summer and was reckoned to be a promising winger who had spent some time at Liverpool before returning to Scotland with Falkirk where he had began his career. He began the season against Oldham and in his early games he made minimal impact and seemed to lack the strength and pace to really worry full backs. He lost his place quite early in the season as Wilson went with Williamson and Quinn out wide. He played in some games but mostly was a sub and when Phillips came in further went down the pecking order. He did come back into the team and had an impressive spell just after Xmas scoring two decent goals in successive games against Notts County and Hartlepool and looked like he could be a goal threat. Sadly after this he did not score again and through a mixture of Williamson’s form and an injury was more of a squad player. He did have a nice cameo in the second half against Stevenage and actually put in a great cross for Cresswell’s header. He did play in all of the play off games as our loss of strikers meant we went with a 5 in midfield but had little impact from an attacking point of view despite always working hard and covering well defensively.
Overall I have to say I was disappointed with Flynn. I hear he does a job for the team and covers well for the full back but I expect more from a winger. I cannot recall him beating a man all season and did not get many crosses in (other than one mentioned) all season. He seemed a bit scared when he got on the ball and never really went at his man. Maybe it is because he lacks pace, trickery or conviction but for me as a winger he offers very little and players who work hard, up and down the flank are ten a penny at this level. He is a useful squad player to have around for cover but for a team going for promotion or the higher level he has not convinced me. I have heard people saying with more time he can be an asset but you can’t suddenly gain pace/skill/strength. Hopefully he will prove me wrong next year but if we start the season with Quinn, Williamson and A N other in terms of a pacey winger coming in, then I will be pleased and see Flynn merely as a fill in type player at the moment.

Grade D+

Matt Phillips

I was surprised we were able to sign Phillips as he had been in and out of the Blackpool Premiership side and scored a few goals. He seemed an exciting prospect and why he was not playing for Blackpool was beyond me? Still we saw an opportunity and fair play to Wilson. It was his one loan that really came off. Phillips scored a superb brace at Preston, another against MK Dons (the winner) and scored a further couple in the mad game against Exeter. After he scored another against Bradford in the JP Trophy, he then went back to Blackpool as we all expected.
Holloway had got exactly what he wanted in terms of the games/sharpening up and reinvigorating of his player’s confidence. Phillips went back to Blackpool, got back in their side and scored lots of goals and was a key man. He is now in the Scotland squad and is being linked with moves to the Premier League after Blackpool just missed out on promotion; a game in which his good finishing for once was missing.
Phillips was fast, good on the ball and made/scored goals. He looked a really talented player who had maybe just lost his way. I am sure he will go on to have a good career; maybe even in the top flight as good touch, finishing and sheer pace are qualities that go for a lot of money. He is not perfect and even at United he had a few poor games (Orient away) but that goes with the territory for a winger as not every game do you fly past your man routinely or score goals with every shot you hit as Phillips seemed to do for much of his spell at the Lane.

Grade A-

[b]David McAllister[/b]

McAllister had looked quite promising at the back end of the relegation season showing a few goals and looking to be a midfielder that could get forward and actually get beyond the strikers ,strike a shot and score a goal; a rarity for a Blades midfielder! His passing and touch seemed more than reasonable even if he did not always get involved in the dirty side of the game. He looked a fair footballer whom with more games under his belt might develop.
This season saw him only start 4 games; I recall him doing ok against Bury and then was quite poor at Chesterfield. He seemed to disappear for a bit and then went on loan to Shrewsbury where he seemed a regular in a promotion chasing side until an unfortunate red card. He came back and was an unused sub in some of the final/playoff games (I would have thought he would have hit a better penalty than Taylor but easy to say in hindsight and narrow margins I suppose). Next season he really has to push on as he is not a kid now 23. He has two years left so he has time to try and force his way in. A lot will depend on outgoings whether he goes from being a bit part player who may go out on loan again or someone who may end up being more of a first teamer. I think he has some talent but needs to exert himself more when he plays and get on the ball more. He has a good shot, is a decent passer but seems to lack strength and sometimes games pass him by.

Grade D-

Nathaniel Mendez Laing

Mendez Laing came in just before the season and was a sub in the opening few games showing a few glimpses of pace and power when he came on. He got a run of games starting and scored a fortunate goal with an intended cross against Bury, but overall he did not convince me. He overplayed on the ball and at times seemed to lack composure or an end product. He seemed to have some ability but at times his touch would let him down and seemed to be carrying excess weight. He got a few injuries and then we he was set to come back got another bad one (against Rotherham was it) and we never saw of him again as he went back to Wolves. Another loan player that did not really work. Cannot see him making it at Wolves to be honest and expect him to turn up in the lower leagues in the not too distant future.

Grade D-

The rest

Jordan Chappell

Chappell had a few cameos in the Cup games and seemed a regular in the reserves but unsure if he has enough to really challenge for the first team. I thought he was out of contract but maybe he has a bit longer as he was not announced as being released? Unsure why we would keep him as he is now 20; never been on loan and the fact no team has taken him despite him being a reserve regular indicates he might not make it.

Matt Harriott

Liked the look of Harriott in the Youth Cup games I saw last season. He looked decent on the ball and always wanted to get involved and looked a busy sort of player. He had a few cup appearances earlier in the season and even started at Everton but then disappeared back to the reserves where games are few and far between. He ended up on loan at Burton but that did not work out and came back. Like a few others, Long (and Tonne) needs to push on if they ever want to make it at the Lane and it is worrying when they have gone out on loan and been sent back or not featured as with the case with some of these. Another that I thought was out of contract but maybe he too has a bit longer?

Erik Tonne

Tonne had showed a few flashes at the back end of the previous season for the reserves and came on in the home game against Middlesbrough. He stayed around and was able to score a few very good goals at Burton in the JP Trophy (that proved to be winner) and also against Bury (a finely taken scissor kick volley). In that cameo he showed good pace and vision and looked promising. It was odd that he somewhat disappeared after this (guess we do not see them train every day) but did go out on loan to York. Strangely and worryingly even for the non league level Tonne was not picked and only played four times. He has another 2 years left but again needs to at least make an impact out on loan if he is going to be considered for selection back here. I had liked the look of him more than maybe the other developmental players I had seen so maybe he is one that we should not give up on just yet.

Next season

Player / Position Years remaining (contract expires)


Nick Montgomery 1 year (2013)
Stephen Quinn 1 year (2013)
Kevin McDonald Out of contract / offer made
Lee Williamson Out of contract / offer made
Michael Doyle 1 year (2013)
Ryan Flynn 2 years (2014)
David McAllister 2 years (2014)
Matt Harriott contract unknown
Jordan Chapell contract unknown
Erik Tonne 2 years (2014)[/b]

Next season if we can keep our players midfield should be our strongest area. If we started with the usual axis of Doyle, McDonald, Williamson and Quinn we would almost certainly have the strongest midfield in the division. We have some decent backups in Montgomery (if he stays), Flynn and McAllister but if we added a bit of raw pace we would be set in this area. Sadly I cannot see it being as straight forward as this. Of the backups not sure Harriott and Chappell are going to make it but Tonne and McAllister do have some promise. All 4 needs games elsewhere with maybe only the latter someone who you could say he could maybe play first team football with us now for more than the odd game.
Flynn needs to show more from an attacking point of view as he is steady but we need more. If he does not he will be a back up at best but if others leave he will be relied on more and needs to give us more of a final product.

I expect at least one of the trio, Quinn, McDonald and Willo to move on, maybe all 3. Montgomery is the one who needs to move on but we will probably be stuck with him for his final year.

If some of these move on we need to act fast and get some replacements with creativity, goals and pace key. It is more important than ever we hold onto some of these as if all move on we are left with Monty, Flynn, Doyle and McAllister and that midfield is barely good enough for the middle of the league in my opinion. They need to do whatever they can to keep McDonald. If we lose one of Quinn or Williamson whilst they will be missed, neither are what I would call out and out wingers. This would at least give us chance to bring in someone who is a bit different in terms of real pace; a proper winger if you like. What the midfield is on opening day will be key to the season we have. If we lose a few and bring in poor replacements, then it will be hard for us to contend.

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