Ched Evans United career had been disappointing to say the least for his first two seasons with the club. Whether he came in for 1.5 or 3 million, it is fair to say he did not have the impact many thought he would. Seen as a real talent at Man City; he had been a regular in their Premier League squad (before the big money investment of course) and it was seen as a bit of a coup when we signed him. He had begun well but for 2 seasons his career was somewhat stop-start due to poor form, injuries and constant change of managers/styles of football. He simply never had a consistent run in the side and when he did play he was very hit and miss.
We all expected him to move on in the summer but then news of a possible misdemeanour off the field meant there could be a possible court case looming. This coupled with his high wages saw him remain at the Lane although he did not start the season due to an injury with rumours swirling matters off the pitch also contributing to his lack of involvement.
He finally did appear and score when he came off the bench at Scunthorpe but for the next few weeks he was in and out of the side. With Phillips and Clarke coming in he was still not a first team regular although did score a few goals with one against Wednesday standing out. After coming on and scoring a free kick at Stevenage; he eventually became a regular beginning against Oxford in the FA Cup and went on an incredible run scoring 30 goals in 30 games and eventually finished with 35 for the season.
He suddenly looked a different player and was scoring goals from all over; free kicks (superb at these and dead eye; always seemingly hitting the target), penalties, poachers goals, one on ones, scrambled efforts; the lot. He showed some pace we never thought he had and his movement and link play was superb. More than anything he showed hunger, desire and work rate we had never seen from him on a regular basis. He became our talisman and along with Jordan Rhodes was clearly the most dangerous and sought after player in the division.
I do not think he had much help with partners either with many being a bit hit and miss with Cresswell’s work rate being the only option that really worked and they formed a decent partnership from the sense that his work rate allowed Evans to profit to some degree.
Evans was looking the complete article and whilst we were playing against lesser sides you still got the sense that the penny had dropped and Wilson was giving him free reign and getting the best out of him. At times he was our best winger and playmaker too. He looked like scoring every time we went forward.
You sensed he would score the goal to get us up but then it emerged there would be the court case just after Rochdale away. As it happened it went on for 2 weeks almost and despite it seeming from the outside that there was reasonable doubt it was a shock to many when he was convicted of rape; especially when the other guy was acquitted. Of course we were not in the court room and the jury had far more to go on than we did. This has been debated to death and I am not going through it all again. At best Evans had acted in an idiotic manner last summer and there is no doubt his actions had a major affect on us not going up. You could say he scored the goals to put us in with a chance but I would also argue his lack of performances/goals in the previous campaigns had contributed to us going down too!
The timing of the conviction saw the team unravel and fail to win the final three games. It cannot have been easy for Wilson and the rest of the team and I feel in the last week many players have alluded to it for the first time without mentioning it directly.
He may appeal but in all likelihood even if it does go to appeal; then it could take 12-18 months. He is going to serve around 30 months and may even be near release before any appeal does take place. His life will never be the same again and it will be interesting to see if he tries to get back into the game upon his release. No doubt a club in the lower leagues would give him a chance, as they did with Lee Hughes, and he will have to work his way back up the divisions again. Too much water has passed under the bridge in terms of the Blades and he will never play for this club again. That I am pretty certain of. United need to move on and consign it to the history books. It is another case of a shocking event affecting this football club and its fans and contributing to them failing when they are so close to the end.
One final thought is that Evans was reportedly on 15K a week and if this is the case he cost the club 2 million in wages over the period. Mind boggling.
[color=green]Grade incomplete- A- up to the conviction but F- for this idiocy which
contributed to his conviction and probably cost us promotion[/green]
Cresswell had been impressive in his loan spell but did not have the same impact once he signed a three year deal and became a permanent player at the club. I felt last season age started to catch up on him and he did not look the same player and it looked an ill advised move to give him such a big contract. He remained at the club as like many such wages probably put off any interested parties and began very well with goals in his opening 3 league games to help us win 3 games.
He teamed mostly with Chris Porter in the opening part of the season and whilst they lacked pace and movement, they had the nous and experience to get a few goals and help us to get to the top of the league.
After the good start with goals he then went on a long drought and did not score again until late October. He then went long spells without goals again and after scoring at Bury in January he went 16 games without a goal or even looking like scoring which was less than impressive at this level.
He ended up playing more by default as we did not have any other real options that pressed their claim and you could say his work ethic and running along the line freed up some space for Evans. I never felt they were a partnership of sort and can’t recall him making many goals. He kind of escaped criticism due to Evans’ form and the fact we were winning but I often felt he was one of the weak links.
I did feel his lack of pace was even more noticeable and he always seemed shattered and never lasted full games. He always seemed to be struggling to keep up with play and at times watching other players give him a 10 yard start and still catch him was worrying. Despite this he still showed his experience at times with some decent hold up play, linking up with others and the odd goals although 9 league goals was not quite enough at this level.
He was a regular in the side (played 51 games in all competitions which was too much and probably explained why he ran out of steam) for the most part even when the likes of Evans came back and Clarke, Hoskins, O’Halloran and Beattie were drafted in at various stages.
When the Evans decision came and with the injuries to Hoskins and sending off of Beattie; he suddenly became needed and was seen as a key man again! He scored against Stevenage and made an impact as we came back in the draw but could not force the win but then actually only played briefly in the semi finals against Stevenage with injury ruling him out of the second leg. He came back against Huddersfield but I felt he was ineffective in the final and did not really do anything of note. Albeit he had little service but his lack of pace, strength and ability to last full games came to the fore again.
Porter was a player that had scored goals in the lower divisions and been successful in Scotland but an awful injury record saw him struggle to make an impact at Derby. He was released in the summer and United gave him a deal reckoning he would shake off previous injuries and be able to score goals lower down. He began the season starting but was less than impressive in the opening games and seemed remarkably slow and immobile. His first touch was really poor although he was decent in the air and taller than I remembered him. He never looked like he would ever score a bucket of goals and like Cresswell he seemed lacking in fitness and tired very easily.
Porter lost his place when Evans came in and became a bit part player with Wilson going with Cresswell and Evans for the run in. He still ended up starting 34 games in various competitions and whilst he was never a regular from around October time; he was always involved in some form. However after scoring at Orient in October he only scored 1 more league goal all season. With all the injuries and circumstances surrounding the strikers he ended up being our salvation in the playoffs against Stevenage and did ok at Broadhall Way and then gave his best performance as a Blade in the second leg; working tirelessly and scoring the winner. I was a little surprised he did not start at Wembley and felt he came on too late when he was brought on.
I was under the impression he had been given a longer contract than a year when United announced they had offered him a new deal. Maybe it was 1 year with a club option for another year? I was surprised we offered him terms though as I do not think he did enough over the course of the season and feel we could try and sign younger, faster and hungrier players from the lower leagues that would probably be on cheaper wages too.
Hopefully he can prove me wrong if he stays and have more of an impact next season but he does not possess the key characteristics in a striker; namely someone who can score goals and worry defenders either through pace, movement or power. He may be best used as a back up for when we want to go long as he can win headers/the high ball more than any of our other options.
Bogdanovic was signed from Barnsley where he scored a fair few goals and was seen as a decent signing even if many cynics suggested it was due to the Malta connections why he came in. He never cemented a place in his first season and despite clear ability/vision and touch; he lacked desire and at times seemed too lackadaisical. His main skill was his ability to con…sorry win penalties by falling theatrically in the box. He never seemed to want to get his shirt dirty and he was extremely lazy despite some genuine technical ability. He never became a regular and played only 12 times (22 sub appearances), scoring 5 goals. He remained despite some rumours suggesting he may move on.
He began on the bench but when he did come on in the first few games he gave the ball away and continued to look disinterested. It looked like we were saddled with him but on the eve of the August deadline, Ian Holloway strangely saw something he liked and signed him for a nominal fee. He did not make much impact there which was not a surprise and only started 1 game (he did score 2 goals but mostly was a sub). He ended up on loan at Rochdale and Notts County but did not really shine at either clubs. He was released at the end of the season by Blackpool and now faces an uncertain future. He said he wants to stay in England but needs to start putting some real effort in if he wants to be valued somewhere and not play like it is a practice match or kick about in the park.
Hoskins had been prolific in the lower leagues after early promise at Rotherham had led to an ultimately unsuccessful spell with Watford (moved with Lee Williamson). After getting back up the leagues after doing well with Bristol Rovers, he struggled to hold down a regular spot at Brighton. He only started 2 games (with 5 as a substitute); and was let out on loan at the end of January. On the face of the move, it seemed a good signing and if you had given most United fans a choice between him Ranger or Antonio; I think most United fans at the time would have said they would have preferred Hoskins. He scored on his debut against Wycombe and looked really sharp but after this he was mostly on the bench as we opted to continue with Evans and Cresswell. He was played after we had a poor run (Oldham/Walsall) but began in a wide position at Brentford and Colchester. He was poor at Brentford but did score at Colchester. After this he was back on the bench for the next few games before picking up an injury. He did not return for selection until MK Dons away and with our lack of options up front he started but did not seem fit and picked up another injury and was never seen again.
I thought he would prove to be a useful signing and good back up for Evans if the worst happened (as it did) but it never really happened. Even when he played he never really convinced and his involvement was limited. He seemed quite quick but was weak and shoved off the ball easily and overall did not quite do enough in an albeit stop-star spell.
When Beattie was rumoured to be coming back most fans including myself were genuinely excited. He had been superb in his first spell and despite barely playing a game for 2 seasons at Blackpool and Rangers; he surely would make an impact at League One level? He was reckoned to be way off fitness and thus spent a lengthy period on trial and then signed a short term deal before it was converted into a longer spell that would last till the end of the season.
He never seemed to get proper match fit the whole time and oddly was not given reserve or practice games to get fit. He always seemed to make just cameo appearances but with us scoring goals and doing well, you could not make the case to start him. When they did he was poor (Scunthorpe at home). He maybe should have been given more time but even when he came on he looked slow and unable to keep up with play (granted it is hard to get into games with little time left). However his desire to do well over spilt into stupidity when he decided to grab a Charlton player by the throat in a melee and rightly was sent off meaning he was out for a further three games. He never really made any kind of impact in the limited time and then when we needed him at the end of the season to come to the fore he let us down badly. Firstly presented with a golden chance at MK Dons to get us a point he somehow missed from a yard and whilst he did make an impact coming on against Stevenage, winning a key header; he then stupidly got sent off at Exeter when given another chance to start. The tackle was wild and totally unnecessary and could have cost us promotion if Wednesday had failed to win and then cost us his services for the playoffs.
I was really disappointed in Beattie as I had hoped he would chip in with 4 or 5 goals and be a really useful player in the run in. It never happened for him and his second spell was a disaster really with two stupid sending offs, no goals and limited contribution of note in any capacity.
It was an easy decision to release him due to his wages and whilst he clearly does have a special association with the club or won’t have come back; even he cannot argue with the decision. Not sure what will happen to him now. On one hand he does not need to play as several big money moves mean he is probably set for life and I cannot see him playing lower league at another club; with lesser wages/facilities. He may end up somewhere like Australia or North America I suppose for one last deal. Shame it did not work out and margins are so slim. If that shot at home to Stevenage had gone in we may have gone up and he would have cemented his place as a Blades legend but it was not be like so many things at the end of the season.
Clarke came in the loan deal that brought him and Matt Phillips to the Lane. He was maybe the more unheralded of the two. He had began his career as a promising young player at Ipswich but numerous loan spells followed before he eventually ended up at Blackpool. He picked up a bad injury ruling him out of the whole of their Premier League campaign and struggled to get into the first team when he returned.
He began at the Lane on the bench but soon got in and was impressive with his movement, clever play and ability to come off the forward area and pick up the ball and create from the ‘hole’. He only scored 1 goal (v Exeter) but made quite a few others and was very impressive I recall in the home game against MK Dons. He was a thinking player and seemed quicker than many of United’s other players. He actually only played 6 games before Blackpool recalled him and Phillips. Whilst Phillips went on to have a major impact; Clarke only made a few substitute appearances and with him being out of contract at the end of the season it seemed he would move on.
So it proved and whilst United were said to be interested, we ended up with Hoskins instead and he ended up signing for Crawley as the financial situation at the Lane maybe hit home if a club in League Two straight out of non league could offer him a better financial package. I did hear he wanted to go back down South though so maybe that was a reason.
He expected him to tear up League Two but in truth that did not happen despite Crawley eventually going up. He only scored 3 goals in 16 games. He will of course now be back playing at the Lane next year in an opposition shirt. A clever little footballer who clearly lacks consistency or would be playing much higher up the leagues. I would have liked him to have stayed at the Lane longer than he did.
Slew had broken into the first team at the end of the previous season and scored a few goals including a cracker to beat Bristol City. He had impressed with his pace and enthusiasm. I must admit he had surprised me as I had not really thought he was ready to crack the first team in league football after seeing him at Shirecliffe and in the reserves. He did well though when he played although he seemed to lack the physicality and toughness against bruising centre backs. He did well in the FA Youth Cup semi final and caused Man Utd real problems with his pace and strong running. He scored and seemed to attract more attention from scouts.
His agent was stupidly pushing him to be moved and with only a year left of his deal, United were put in a difficult situation. Slew clearly would be better staying and continuing his football education at the Lane where he would see games and be able to develop but his agent wanted to cash in. it was a surprise when he signed a new deal on the eve of the season but after beginning on the bench the murmurings never went away. He did score v Brentford but was not a starter most of the time and swayed by his agent he seemed to wrongly think he should be playing every week
It came out of the blue when I got up the day after the August transfer window had close and it was reported he had moved to Blackburn for a fee that could rise to 2 million pounds. His agent had finally got his pieces of silver. For what it is worth United actually did well to get the money they did for someone who had barely played first team football. No blame cannot be attached to the Blades or McCabe when the agent was clearly not going to stop till he got his client and himself the financial package they wanted.
The move was ill advised for Slew and as we thought he never really threatened the first team other than a couple of cameo appearances from the bench. He actually spent some time back playing Academy football as well as the reserves and you worried he was just wasting his time. He eventually ended up back where he started; on a League One bench; after he moved to Stevenage. His impact was minimal and he did not score and actually got sent off for violent conduct in one game. He mysteriously disappeared at the end of the season and did not feature in any of the three games against us.
Unsure what his future holds as he new goes back to Blackburn. Maybe he might get more of a chance at a lower level but he will probably go back on loan to a League One/Two club again. He may as well have stayed with us but once again the greed of agents and football in general could have ruined a promising career before it has started.
I must admit I knew little about or had even hard of O’Halloran when he signed. He was reckoned to be fast and could play wide or up front. He came on against Chesterfield and showed his raw pace but blazed a good chance over. He made a few more sub appearances but seemed quite selfish and panicked when in front of goal. He missed a good chance at Hartlepool and then was restricted to sub appearances the rest of the way until he was given a start in the crucial game at Stevenage. In this game he had a bit of a nightmare, missing two very good chances and delaying to shoot on a few others. He seemed quite selfish and did not get his head up. He also did not chase back and recover situations after he lost the ball. He looked miles off being a professional footballer even at the lower level. However, despite his less than successful spell I still would have liked to have seen him given a longer spell at Wembley and been put alongside Porter against a slow Huddersfield defence. He did take a cool penalty to be fair to him but he won’t be remembered for very long and was other striker that came in that simply did not make an impact and when Evans was unavailable no-one stepped up.
Philliskirk came on loan at the end of the relegation season and had a few sub appearances and was reckoned to make more of an impact in League One but it never happened. He had a few sub/FL trophy appearances and scored a few goals at reserve level but he never pushed on and with all the striking issues/poor form of some of those mentioned; the fact he was not given a chance said it all. Wilson sees him every day in training after all. He did have a spell on loan at Oxford but did not really stand out there which is a concern. It seemed an odd move to give him another year as he seems no nearer breaking through than when he came. It is a big year for him if he wants to have a career in professional football.
Player / Position Years remaining (contract expires)
Richard Cresswell 1 year (2013)
Chris Porter Out of contract / offer made
Daniel Philliskirk 1 year (2013)
With so many players now gone (for various reasons), we are left with the above which is hardly inspiring. I know we started with Porter and Cresswell last year but they are not the sort of players that are going to fire us to promotion with all due respect. They lack pace, mobility and goals. They will not worry defences. That is why I am surprised we gave Porter another deal (or offered him one). I would like us to bring in two new strikers; pace and power being qualities we need. If we did that and had Cresswell/Porter as options then we would have 4 decent options at this level. Sadly I feel the best we can hope for is one incoming (hopefully a goalscorer) and then one of Cresswell or Porter. Next season we will see how we miss Evans as he scored a third of our goals. He also made so many goals. If everyone stays; which is unlikely; the striking area is the weakest area of the pitch and we really need to bring pace, pace and more pace here but also need an out and out scorer. Not much to ask. Cresswell will toil again but he is nearly done I am afraid and his legs have gone. We need a total fresh injection in this area but with little funds and teams wanting to hang onto any good strikers, I assume it will be more Bosmans. I really hope we can sign some young talent and Dearden and co have actually done some work to get us a gem. Our signings this year (mainly in this area) for the most part did not work and it is vital we do better. We need some excitement in this area and need to move away from the plodders we have.
The season for the fans did not start very well in my opinion as the car park protest against Wilson was embarrassing. I know it was only a handful but it was not good publicity and to see fans saying they hated a man who was going to become our manager was poor form. Sure protest on radio stations or forums but to go down and make such a strong display of feeling against him as a person was wrong in my opinion. Fortunately despite many fans reservations (myself included) he was given a chance and fans were patient with him. They saw a decent, attractive style of play and the football was good to watch. We got it down and played and for the most part the fans were appreciative of what they saw. One or two wanted it knocked forward quicker or groaned at times when they overplayed but many it was just because they were not used to such a style and had become accustomed to the more direct approach.
The crowds dipped but were still decent (around 18,000 most weeks) for a League One side. I will say it was very quiet for the most part and the Lane resembled a Library at times. It did not seem to matter as we won most games at home. The noise levels went up for the Stevenage games and really helped the side but we needed more noise/vocal encouragement in the other lesser important games.
Away from home the support was incredible. Given some new venues to go to, United fans enjoyed the traditional grounds (with some standing) and followed them all over. United took massive numbers to far flung destinations such as Yeovil, Exeter and Bournemouth. We also packed out venues like Rochdale, Notts County, MK Dons and Bury taking close to or more than 5,000 to such venues. The game at Bury was surreal as United fans occupied three sides in a game that was basically like home match. No sure whether such numbers will travel next year as of course the novelty factor will wear off. It does depend how well we are doing. If we are middle of the league we will be lucky to take 1,000 to some of those grounds I feel which is understandable.
The numbers we took to Wembley was still decent despite mocking from rivals as we have been before and the prices were extortionate (didn’t Wednesday only take 20,000 to an FA Cup replay against Arsenal in 1993?). When we got to Wembley it was kind of subdued as many probably came sat more in hope than expectation. They tried to lift the side but with people so spread out and the stadium so loud, most of the noise sadly came from the artificial clappers the Huddersfield fans wafted about. It is always good to see massed ranks of Blades at big games and walking down Wembley Way and nice to get to such big games. It is just getting a bit of a joke now that we cannot actually score, let alone win one of these games.
To say United fans have character the size of the ocean is an understatement. We have been let down time and time again. No matter who the manager is, who the players are, we seem to fail. Yes we are chokers/bottlers but we also are incredibly unlucky. Even fans of other teams have remarked to me in the last week how we have been put through the mill and how hard it must be to keep going and to keep having the faith.
I think the crowds overall will dip even more next year. That is natural when you are in the lower leagues and stay there. It will maybe be around 15-16,000 at best next year. It does not help that match day prices are way too high for league one football and this puts off any casual fans. The season ticket prices are good value but it means those that commit are largely the core fans most home games.
My fear is if they get off to a bad start then they will use Wilson as a scapegoat when with the resources he has and players he may lose it could be hard for him to repeat the performances and results of this season.
Hopefully we can keep the core of the squad and add to it and go again. If many move on and we are around the middle of the league, then you fear we could be in this division (or God forbid worse) for the foreseeable future. You fear for our support and the long term future of the club if we do have an extended period in the wilderness but you do know that whatever there will be a solid core of fans that will go no matter what and we will still have the best crowds/away followings in the lower leagues nearly every week.
Most United fans are now resigned to supporting a side that continually lets us down. What can we do though? We have no choice. You keep going and you keep supporting them but I can understand those that have frankly had enough and won’t be regulars (due to finances, economy and United’s ill fortune). It is getting harder and harder but you have to just maintain that hope that one day we may have our moment of glory or can at least get back to some kind of level of decent football in the league pyramid.
Have a good summer. See you all next season!
Up the Blades
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