Chris Morgan was to be the bedrock which United built their season on yet again but he actually was a little out of sorts to start the season and with the remainder of the defence never being the same week in, week out; he seemed to struggle somewhat and actually made quite a few mistakes as both he and the Unite defence looked shaky. He actually was dropped for a few games late August/early September before coming back in and getting injured. He only returned for the Burnley home game but his form was still up and down. Still as a leader and captain he was surely to be a key man in our attempts to move up the league until he suffered an injury at the end of October. The severity of the injury meant he would be out for the entire season with cruciate knee ligament damage. His absence would be one of many nails in the coffin for United. After he went out United struggled even more and used so many different permutation in the centre of defence with none really having any real success. Morgan tried to beat the drum about United’s survival and was even briefly involved in the coaching when Carver was the caretaker manager; but he was helpless to prevent our slide. Many did feel Morgan was coming towards the last few years at this level and this injury could arguably speed up this thought but if Morgan come back even 60-70% the leader/player he was; he will still be an asset at league one. The fact is if he was fit we may not have gone down and even if we did; then surely like some of the other more experienced players he would have departed. Now recovering from injury he will be one of the few to stay around and fingers crossed he may be back to lead us out come August.
Andy Taylor had been criticised for his performances the previous season after he came in from the lower leagues and looked out of his depth. It was hard to see what Blackwell and his scouts had seen in him to justify spending cash on him and giving him a three year contract. He began the season back at left back with Gary Naysmith opting to take Huddersfield’s contract offer although Stephen Jordan came in to provide competition for Taylor. He did ok in the opening game at Cardiff but then was poor (along with the rest) against QPR and was dropped, when Gary Speed took over, in favour of Jordan. His replacement did not fare much better but Jordan and others; such as De Laet played in that position for the next few months and Taylor was mostly a substitute at best. He played once against Coventry but did not return until the Xmas period for a run of 3 games. He had a decent game against Swansea before sustaining a serious injury against Hull on Boxing Day in a block challenge as he went to shoot. He came off with serious knee injury affecting his anterior cruciate ligament and we never saw him again. Overall he ended up only starting 7 league games and we only won one of those games. It was a write off season really with poor performances overall in the games he played and then an injury keeping him out for the second half of the season. With only a season left on his contract and the fact that due to the injury he actually is unlikely to return until the later part of the year his future is very uncertain. Some have said he is harshly criticised but to be honest I am not sure he is good enough as he gives his winger too much room, gets in bad positions, seems to have little football brain/awareness and makes too many mistakes. Going forward at times he has been neat and tidy and occasionally put in some good crosses but first and foremost he is a defender and he struggles to master the basics needed for a solid full back. The only positive for him is I currently do not see another left back on the books.
Matthew Lowton has been one of the few bright spots of this season. He has been asked to play in all sorts of positions and for much of the season was in and out for various reasons with some mangers liking him and others unsure. By the end of the season he finished as probably our strongest performer in the last 2 or 3 months. His season began well in that he was picked after impressed in pre season to start at Cardiff but was then sent off; a little harshly, in the first half and was a substitute for most of the games when his suspension elapsed. He came on in midfield and scored in a comeback draw against Burnley and then eventually got back in at right back for a series of games around November. Speed took him out of the team just before he took the Wales job and then after a poor performance where he was run ragged by Chris Eagles at Burnley in Adams’ first game; he was once again out of the team. He did not return until Palace but since then he has been pretty much ever present and although he has been moved from right back to left back to centre half and even spells in midfield, he has got better and better. Decent on the ball, good going forward and a decent finisher he has shown he deserves to be in the first team. He is excellent in the air for his size and always wants to be positive when he gets on the ball. Be good if he can command a regular position (probably right back) and for a youngster he has been messed about quite a bit this season. Hopefully now so long as nobody comes in for him (and has proven he is a competent Championship performer) then hopefully he can be one of the building blocks for the future.
Ertl came in from Palace where he had been a steady utility man if nothing spectacular. His signing seemed odd as we already had players already like him in the squad but he was reckoned to be a cover player for defence and midfield. He began at Cardiff playing really well at centre half but then at right back against QPR he was awful and his lack of pace and mobility clear to see. He then operated in midfield for many of the games after this but was always picked despite some up and down performances and I believe he was an ever present up to the Ipswich game in early November when he dropped to the bench. He did a steady job but he did not get forward much and was not able to offer much more than others were already offering such as Montgomery. Also with Britton seemingly better playing just in front of the back four; meant we had many players that were much of a muchness and who preferred to operate in the same role. He was out of the side for a while being mainly a substitute and then he only came back into the team at centre back due to injuries around the new year time. He had a few steady-ish games in this position but also showed again his lack of pace and quicker, more mobile players caused him problems. Once again he was in and out of the team before he suffered an injury in the reserves around mid March and was ruled out for the rest of the season. Overall, he was not awful when he played but to be frank he was quite ordinary and was another player that was moved round different positions. He seemed better at centre back than midfield but then with the lack of pace around the rest of the team this weakness was exposed even more. He has a year left on his contract and I suppose is a useful player to have around who can play a number of positions but sadly he is not really reliable enough to play consistently well in one position for a number of games going by the evidence we have seen. He was symbolic of many of Blackwell’s signings that were steady enough but usually lacked pace, technique, flair and ability to change/save games.
Kyle Bartley was brought back after a fairly successful loan spell the previous season where he had shown some promise and although he was raw he had some natural ability and his physique suggested he could be a success. He was injured at the start of the season but came in at Middlesboro and then played a run of games at centre back. His performances were mixed as he carried on from the previous season; showing his ability with the ball at times but maybe also being guilty of switching off in key defensive moments with poor concentration. He went out of the team with an injury briefly before coming back in to stay in the team from the Coventry home game right up to the Norwich away defeat. When Adams came in he was suspended but played four successive games before the end of January. At the end of this month with the transfer window closing he was recalled or deepening who you believe allowed to move to Rangers on loan from his parent club, Arsenal. It seemed an odd one as he had been one of our better defenders I felt and was an ever present when fit. He made mistakes and at times was too lackadaisical. He also maybe was not consistent enough but overall despite this I still felt he was one of our better defenders and it was not helped by the fact we constantly were changing things around at the back. Chris Morgan’s injury also did not help his development. Adams said at the time: "We wanted to bring in another centre-half and Kyle felt it would maybe hinder his selection and wanted to leave. If people want to leave the club, I'm not going to stand in their way." This disappointed me even before I knew it was Neil Collins bring brought in as it sounds as if Adams preferred another centre back and did not fancy Bartley or at least convince him he would be part of his plans. If Adams had brought in a better player than fair enough but that was not the case. He was not brilliant but was still as good if not better than the hotch potch line ups we kept fielding at the back from after he left. In the circumstances I would have liked us to have tried harder to have kept him personally. Despite this I am unsure if he will ever go on and be a top quality Premiership defender or even play at that level and his performances at Rangers were mixed before he picked up a ligament injury which curtailed the loan.
Nyron Nosworthy, like Steve Simonsen, has been decent for the most part in his loan at the end of the 09/10 season and most United fans were glad he was brought back judging by many fan’s reactions on message boards etc. Sure he was prone to errors and at times overplayed but he had put in more good performances than bad ones and showed his experience. On his return he was reckoned to compete alongside Kyle Bartley to play centre back alongside Chris Morgan and of course could occasionally play right back; which was not really his best position. He was injured when we started the season but played in Gary Speed’s first game and began his campaign at right back. He then played centre back when Morgan was out of the team before partnering him again before the skipper got his season ending injury. After this he mainly played at centre back for the next few months under Speed with a number of really poor performances and defensive howlers. Two mistakes at home to Hull that led directly to goals were an example of his poor form and he made countless other errors or tried to over play. In Adams’ opening game he was poor again and then decided to give a two fingered salute to fans when he left at half time before being substituted due to injury. He did apologise to the fans after the game but the damage had been done for many as much for his performances as the gesture. He came back into the team at Palace but he is form remained patchy to say the least as he mainly now operated at right back. He did have one or two decent games showing smatterings of the form we had seen the previous season but after another run of defeats his loan was terminated allowing us to play younger players in the run in. We did improve after he left and clearly for all his experience his performances for the most part this season were not good enough. He can defend well at times and has athleticism, decent speed over a distance and can read the game really well. He made some horrific decisions on the ball and often took too many touches when a simple clearance would have sufficed. He also somehow managed to head the ball at impossible angles when it looked impossible to put it where he did! Difficult to know where is future lies as he has another season at Sunderland under contract but actually proved he was not good/consistent enough for the Championship this season. He provided plenty of entertainment this season but sadly not much of it was of a positive note.
Stephen Jordan was brought in after he had looked set to sign for Portsmouth in pre season after leaving Burnley. He had shown promise in his early days at Man City but now his career seemed to have stalled. United offered him a one year deal seeing they needed some competition at left back. He came in against Preston and did fairly well and was in the team for the next month or so but his performances were mixed and he, like Taylor, before him was poor positionally and did not seem to get tight enough to his man or be alert to danger. He then was dropped before picking up an injury when he returned. This seemed to be the pattern for much of the rest of the season as he would play a few games, then maybe get injured or be taken out due to poor performances and then return and the same would happen. Remember one wretched mistake at Leeds which led to the winning goal. He only actually played 14 games in total and from December onwards only started 2 games before being released in early April. Another signing that was a total failure and when he did play he did not really look up to it often being part of a defence (with others) that threw away goal after goal. He had a decent left foot but again like many others we signed seemed to think he was better than he actually was when all we wanted was someone to do the basics. Unsure what his future holds now he has been released by two Championship teams in successive seasons and will probably have to start again down the leagues but he is now 29.
Ritchie De Laet was brought in from Manchester United and played 4 games on loan. He actually did not look too bad in general play and was decent on the ball, getting up and down the flank well. However whilst he showed some undoubted ability he actually made some poor mistakes in the games he played. At Leeds he was partly to blame (mainly Jordan in the build up) for their man being allowed to cross, against Burnley he gave away a poor penalty and then was also culpable in a goal at Doncaster. Another who has ability like others I have mentioned but poor concentration and basic defending cost him badly. Went to Preston on loan after he left us and then has been at Portsmouth for the final few months of the season. Another loan that did not really come off.
Jean Calve’s spell at the Lane was really quite mixed but he did not live up to the promise he initially showed. He was a trialist (from Nancy) under Kevin Blackwell but was not signed going to Blackpool on trial soon after before Gary Speed came in and opted to sign him. Had a sensational start with a wonder goal and good performance to win the game versus Preston and then assisted on a goal at Derby the following week. He remained in the team at right back for the next few months but his attacking abilities (good shot and always tried to get crosses in) were not backed up by his defending. He was physically weak and also another who switched off at key times. I felt teams would often target him down that side and begin to realise he could be got at. He was taken out of the team and then was in and out for the final weeks of Speed’s spell in charge. He started against Burnley but clearly did not impress Adams and did not play another game for United with only a few substitute appearances as he picked up a few injuries to boot. He basically did not feature after the New Year and his loan was terminated before the end of the season. Seemed promising when he came in but was not strong/physical enough for English football and unfortunately despite the flashes in his opening games his ability on the ball was not that good that it would counteract the weaknesses and he was one that I think Adams got right in not playing.
Rob Kozluk was a bizarre signing when he was brought back to the club on a 1 year deal after a trial period. He was always a ‘character’ around the dressing room and did a decent job for a long time when he was here the first time but was released because his best days were behind him. So to bring him back when a club lower in the league than us released him was baffling really and seemed another waste of funds/resources. Could our scouts not find any young players better than this or did they not feel some of our young players could be a better option? He was mostly a substitute when involved and indeed for much of Speed’s tenure was not even on the bench. When Adams came in with United having a lot of injuries and suspensions he actually started his only league game of the season; I think at left back and amazingly scored deep into stoppage time to salvage a point with a great finish. He played against Villa in the cup but was poor and then did not start again returning to the bench for the remainder of the season coming on for a few brief cameos. He last left the club when we got relegated from the top flight and now he leaves again when we go into league one. He has been a great servant and I can’t blame him for coming back (it was others who signed him!) for one last hurray. I am sure there is a place for somewhere in league two for a final contract even at 34.
Ellian Parrino was signed from Estudiantes at the end of September on a season long loan after he played against us in a friendly game at the Lane in the pre season. He was on the bench once in Speed’s spell as manager but then came on at Burnley when we had injuries in Adams’ first game. He then started against Doncaster at right back and stayed in the side for 8 consecutive games at this position. He showed some ability on the ball and was able to get forward again and also attacked the ball better than say Calve, a player who had played there previously. He actually had one or two good efforts on goal too when he did get forward. However, he was another who physically perhaps was not strong enough and also gave his man too much time and space. He still seemed to have some promise considering he is only 22 but the team were struggling and he was dropped before he suffered an injury which I think has kept him out for the rest of the season. I do not think we will sign him due to the obvious cut backs after we had previously seemed interested but on reflection he maybe did not quite do enough despite some decent promise at times.
Shane Lowry was one of Adams’ loan signings and was brought in from Villa and remained with us from the draw at Coventry right until the end of the season. He was one of the better loan players (not too difficult!) and his no nonsense approach endeared him to many fans as he actually put his foot and head in at times to protect the defence. He was a bit ale house but in a strange way I liked that as he showed some commitment we had not seen before in this area and where we had routinely given away soft goals. Technically not the best and at times he would revert to the punt forward. He also was another guilty of ill discipline with some bad fouls, yellow cards and also a silly red card at Scunthorpe and another at Swansea. Still, I felt he did ok overall and despite some mistakes (maybe he tailed off towards the end of the season) he was one of the better defenders we had. However, this was not difficult when you run through some of the players I have detailed so far! Will we sign him? Probably not. With Morgan hopefully coming back and Maguire coming through they probably simply cannot afford to sign someone who will be on decent wages as he has another year left at Villa.
Joe Mattock was another loan signing Adams made in an attempt to shore up the defence. He was out of the reckoning completely at West Brom after they signed him for decent money from Leicester but at 20 is still thought to have a big future. He did not really convince in his spell at the Lane and was another left back that was probably better going forward than defending. For fear of repeating myself (sorry) he was another that gave his winger too much time and seemed to simply; disappear from his position at key times! Completely one footed to the point where he would never use his right foot. He has a decent left foot and got a few crosses in that caused problems in his spell but he routinely made daft mistakes throughout his loan and I cannot really recall one game where I can say he played well in.
Neil Collins was a signing that was an odd one as he was completely out of the picture at Leeds. He was a defender that had not really impressed me when I had seen him previously (even going back to his loan at the Lane 5 years previously) and had suddenly become a bit of a journeyman (not usually a good sign when you are only 27) moving around quite a few clubs. Adams opted to let Bartley move on and plugged Lowry and Collins into the back four. He made his debut at Ipswich as we got battered 3-0 and was involved in the side that went 8 games without a win from this point onwards often looking clumsy, ponderous, immobile and also strangely weak for someone so big. He made some poor mistakes in games that led directly to goals and looked a really poor and strange signing. It may seem I am picking on him but going through the games I can recall goals at Palace away; did not close the ball, Scunthorpe away; at fault for at least 2 goals including the key penalty that brought them back into it, Forest home; Adebola turned him easily; Watford; possibly at fault for all 3 goals at least 2; Middlesboro; poor defensive header. Maybe I am exaggerating but it got to the point where if we did concede often he was involved in it through not picking up or a poor mistake. Evidently he had s strong second half at Reading when we won but most games he played in he was 5/10 at best I think. It is astonishing that we signed him on a 2 and a half year deal and despite us not having the funds to make many signings; this was a real misuse of funds and now we are stuck with him for the foreseeable future.
Harry Maguire first came to my prominence when I saw him a few years ago in a pre season youth tournament televised in Ireland and I recall his size/command for one so young. I resolved to keep an eye out for him but only saw him in person for the first time in the Academy this year when he impressed in the few games I saw. He clearly had an unbelievable physique for someone of his age (only just 18) and was impressive in the youth cup run to the final of the competition. He maybe lacked a bit in pace what I had seen but I liked the way he always tried to pass the ball and brought it out from the defence. He was given a taste of the first team as an unused substitute against Leeds and then came on at half time against Cardiff and impressed with his no nonsense attitude against internationals Bellamy and Bothroyd. He then played at Preston and did well continuing to attack the ball at every opportunity before continuing to impress against Bristol City until an unfortunate sending off after a poor ball from Montgomery. Maguire then was unfortunate again when a slip against Barnsley led to a goal. However, despite this he has shown real promise in the games he has played and will definitely be one we can build around (assuming we don’t receive any offers for him) for the future.
Danny Batth came in from Wolves on loan but only came on for a few minutes strangely as a striker when we beat Swansea! He was recalled not long after he came in and then ended up going to Wednesday for a spell later in the season.
Phil Roe was an unused substitute for the league cup game and then at Reading at the end of the season.
Connor Brown was reckoned to be a promising right back but got a bad injury and only returned at the end of the season to reserve team football.
Terry Kennedy has partnered Maguire in the centre of the defence at the Academy and also looks promising and made his debut coming on at Swansea for the final half hour.
Marc Warren came in from Australian football and Seamus Connelly arrived from the League of Ireland at the same time as teammate David McAllister but whilst both have been regulars in the reserves they have yet to make their league bow with Warren being an unused sub a Swansea.
Player / Position Years remaining (contract expires)
Chris Morgan 2 years (2013)
Neil Collins 2 years (2013)
Johannes Ertl 1 year (2012)
Matthew Lowton 1 year (2012)
Andy Taylor 1 year (2012)
Harry Maguire (contract unknown)
Seamus Connelly 1 year (2012)
Marc Warren 1.5 years (Jan - 2013)
Phil Roe (contract unknown)
Connor Brown (contract unknown)
Terry Kennedy (contract unknown)
Hopefully Morgan can return from injury and solidify the defence but it is a major injury and I am unsure even if we will be fit for the start of the season. Young players Lowton and Maguire will definitely be involved and probably start the season I would reckon. Taylor is out injured and Ertl is another coming back from a bad injury but neither are players that I would want as regular starters even at league two and both have fitness concerns anyway. Sadly it may be a case of needs must. The rest here are young players who may not be ready yet but then again they may have to be used. I would love to say we need this player and that player but with the financial demands I am unsure who/how many we can bring in. In an ideal world we definitely need a left back and maybe another centre back with some pace but unsure whether that will happen. If we could start the season with Morgan, Maguire, Lowton and A N other and sign one or two back ups that would be creditable to say the least at League One level.