As I have traditionally done at the end of the last few seasons; it is that time again when I write a review of the campaign and also compile a school report for the different sections of the club. I will look at how they have fared and what are the prospects for next season for each respective department of the club.
I will begin with the review and a breakdown of the board and manager.
Over the next few days/week I will add to this with breakdowns of the players/squad at the club and do the same. Feel free to add comments/disagree/debate.....after each post I make.
I have graded the board, the manager, players and the fans; in a traditional school report style of A+ to F- (every player who started at least one league game).
However, I have had to grade players based on the games they did play so some players who played a lot more; may still get a lower grade despite disproportionate number of games in comparison. If I have missed anyone then please say!
I remember back to the end of last season and vividly recall seeing Kevin McCabe boarding a train to London as I travelled to work. The same day he rightly decided to dispense with the services of Micky Adams after an awful spell in charge had seen him unable to turn around a struggling side and a season that had started badly eventually culminated in relegation. However, we had just seen the FA Youth Cup final and were excited about the emergence of several promising youngsters we had seen in these games. There were rumours about Roberto Di Matteo (wonder what happened to him?), Mark Robins, Phil Brown and then suddenly Danny Wilson. Surely the last one was a rouse and it would not happen? He had been sacked by Swindon and was an ex Wednesday player and manager.
I recall having a day off work on Friday, May 27th and going with the family to Chatsworth for a day when my phone confirmed via text that an appointment had been made. ‘F*****g Danny Wilson!’ was the exact message sent to me from a friend. Whilst the car park protests seemed a tad over the top it seemed a very odd appointment to say the least. For me it was not about the Wednesday connections more about him being somewhat of a journeyman manager and not such a successful one in recent years as he bobbed around the lower leagues from Hartlepool to MK Dons to Swindon.
His first interviews were positive and he spoke very well seeming unfazed by the negative reaction from many supporters. We saw some players move on (Henderson, Yeates and numerous loanees went back) but as the season started, we had managed to retain the likes of Stephen Quinn, Matt Lowton, Nick Montgomery, Lee Williamson although Ched Evans was out injured as speculation mounted over a possible court case over an alleged rape in the summer. There were a sprinkling of new signings with Jean Francois Lecsinel from Swindon, Chris Porter from Derby and Ryan Flynn, the only cash signing, came in from Falkirk.
United also signed Wolves winger Nathaniel Mendez Laing on loan and former Burnley man Kevin McDonald was also on trial and was to soon to join the squad.
August - The season began with a big United following of nearly 4,000 Blades following them to Boundary Park and a solid performance saw them get off to winning start with a first goal for the impressive Maguire and a tidy finish from Cresswell. The victory was well deserved with Quinn looking a stand out player. After a league cup win on penalties at Hartlepool, the following week saw a brace of wins in different circumstances as Brentford were beaten with ease thanks to Jordan Slew and Cresswell again. McDonald made his bow in this game and showed attributes of poise and passing that United had been crying out for in recent campaigns. The game in the midweek with Walsall was not as straight forward though and some erratic keeping from Steve Simonsen throughout the evening contributed to the Blades being 2-0 behind. A stirring fight back led by substitute Lee Williamson saw United come back and win the game 3-2 with a Cresswell penalty proving to be the winner. United dropped their first points the following Saturday with a draw at Tranmere after Nick Montgomery’s out of character 30 yard finish. United went out of the cup at Everton but were soon back to winning ways with another hard fought win at Yeovil with Chris Porter scoring his first goal. At the end of the month Jordan Slew or rather his agent decided he would be better served playing academy/reserve football at Blackburn rather than league football at the Lane and they both took their pieces of gold to infuriate Wilson. A less controversial departure saw Daniel Bogdanovic leave the Lane for Blackpool but manager Danny Wilson opted not to bring in any further players. The month ended with some of the backups playing in a comeback win at Burton in the opening round of the Johnstone Paint Trophy.
September - United’s impressive start to the season continued with the excellent and patient passing football that had surprised and delighted many fans. A 4-0 thumping of Bury with cameos from McAllister and Tonne saw United joint top and this was followed up by a 1-1 draw at Scunthorpe in which Evans came back into the fold to earn a point against the Iron, so long United’s bogey team. The first defeat came in strange circumstances as long time unbeaten Huddersfield overpowered United in a clinical spell to neat three goals in quick succession at the Kop end in a game that was relatively even for the most part. The following game United bounced back by thumping Colchester with Evans on target again but then somehow contrived to lose after battering bottom side Wycombe for much of the game without being able to take any of the many chances they created. Still the football for the most part was excellent with youngster Maguire and Lowton excellent and players who had been so criticised the previous season, Collins and Doyle, seemingly galvanised by Wilson’s fresh style of passing and patient football.
October - The defeat at Adams Parks was followed by another defeat as the Blades lost again at home; this time to league leaders Charlton who also clinically took their chances in another close contest. The good start to the season had been undermined somewhat by 3 defeats in 4 games that left United back in 6th place. After they undeservedly beat Rotherham to move on in the Johnstone Paint trophy; it was time for the first Derby of the season as Wednesday arrived at the Lane. In front of a 28,000 crowd, United scored twice in the first half thanks to Quinn and Evans and with just around 10 minutes to go it seemed as if the honours were going to the red and white side of the city. However two late goals aided by more poor goalkeeping from Steve Simonsen gave Wednesday an unlikely draw and left Blades fans gutted. Undeterred United scored 4 goals at Preston with new loan signings Billy Clarke and Matt Phillips highly influential and Lee Williamson scoring a brace. They were unable to build on this as another goalkeeping mistake from Simonsen gave Orient a stoppage time draw a week later. United brought in young George Long and he performed creditably in a 2-1 win against a very decent MK Dons side. The following Saturday though keeper Long and many others had a nightmare as United let in 4 goals to struggling Exeter in a game they threw away so many times in an 8 goal score draw.
November - United’s sticky spell in performances and results continued with a defeat at Stevenage (with Simonsen back in goal) and then a poor display to bow out on penalties to Bradford in the JP Trophy. This loss and the manner of it with many players seemingly having reverted to the poor play and confidence of the end of last season after such a bright start; seemed to galvanise the team. It seemed Wilson’s words had the effect as United then went on their best run of the season. They beat Oxford in the FA Cup and then Carlisle (through Evans) in the league at the Lane. They then scored late, thanks to Evans again, at the B2Net to beat neighbours Chesterfield.
December - The run continued with another cup win; this time against Torquay in a game that was played in difficult circumstances after the untimely passing of former manager Gary Speed. United continued their impressive form beating Rochdale comfortably with Evans scoring another brace and then winning well at Bournemouth with two own goals, both made by Evans giving the Blades fans plenty of Xmas cheer. Two games immediately after Christmas saw United beat Notts County in front of the Sky cameras and then saw off Hartlepool a few days later with another powerful performance.
January - The first defeat for 8 games came at Carlisle as we moved into the New Year, as United lost out by the odd goal in a 5 goal thriller despite two more goals by the on fire Evans. Another cup win game the following Saturday and another win as United beat plucky non-league Salisbury to move into round four. The astonishing home form in terms of goals scored continued as four more goals went past Yeovil as Untied now moved ahead of rivals Wednesday into second place.
United took a huge following to Bury having around 4,000 fans on 3 sides of the ground as they overran the Shakers. With another defeat for Wednesday (to Charlton) United now were in an excellent position. The month ended with two defeats as a decent performance at leaders Charlton saw United lose out to a free kick before they were well beaten by Birmingham at the Lane to go out of the FA Cup.
February - The Blades got back to winning ways as they easily dispatched struggling Wycombe before they had perhaps their best performance of the season to win at Huddersfield with the now ever reliable Neil Collins scoring the winner and the previously much maligned Simonsen outstanding. Huddersfield surprisingly dispensed with their manager Lee Clark the next day! A horrible Preston outfit failed to stop the United juggernaut as Evans once again scored a crucial goal as the Blades won again. The following week with a 5 point gap opened up on rivals Wednesday, United were unable to put a huge marker down and went down by a single goal in the derby at Hillsborough. Days later as United beat Scunthorpe after a pretty poor peformance; Wednesday had sacked their manager Gary Megson and soon were to replace him with Dave Jones. It was seen as an odd move as despite Megson’s unpopularity with the United fans, he still had got them right in the promotion mix and they had just beaten the Blades. Little did we know at that time what impact this move would have on both clubs.
March - The next few games were to perhaps be seen as the ones that may have cost united promotion. 2-0 up and coasting against Oldham, Michael Doyle hit the post and numerous other chances went begging. The game seemed as good as over when an own goal by Cresswell and then a sending off for Matt Lowton turned the game. Oldham levelled and then at the death Maguire committed a professional foul and ex Wednesday man Kuqi won it from the spot. United had also lost Francois with a serious injury and now had to play at Walsall with 3 of the back 4 missing. They lost this game with debutants Hill and Egan not able to stop the struggling Saddlers winning. Suddenly the gap was now down to 1 point. United were able to regroup with suspended players returning and won 2-0 at Brentford with Evans continuing to score freely. They now had newcomers Hoskins and O’Halloran in on loan to boost the attacking prospects especially with the Evans court case looming. They then got a decent point at Colchester with loan signing Will Hoskins on target. A poor performance against Tranmere saw United get just a point but they ended a packed month of games (due to FA Cup games previously in the season and postponements) by smashing 5 goals at Meadow Lane and then hitting another 4 against Chesterfield to maintain a slim advantage over Wednesday who had now hit a rich vein of form. It was not helping that United had to keep playing after their rivals due to the way the fixtures/kick off times had fell. United had to beat Hartlepool, after Wednesday had won a lunch time game, with a late Evans penalty being the difference.
April - As we moved into April, United were now within touching distance of promotion but had the Owls breathing right down their neck. They managed to see off Bournemouth with a nervy close the game. Then after Wednesday beat Oldham on Easter Monday, United then had to go to Rochdale but hit another 5 goals as their remarkable scoring record now saw them the highest scoring side in the country. It was this week that the Ched Evans court case began but he was free to return and wrap up a victory against Orient at the Lane and Wednesday could only draw. United now needed only 5 points to be certain of promotion in the final 3 games. On the following Friday though shockwaves went around the city and for all United fans as Evans was sentenced to 5 years in jail for rape. The decision seemed puzzling to many United fans considering the evidence they were made aware of and that the other player involved Clayton McDonald was acquitted. Fans forums buzzed and the fall out was not pretty in terms of comments made at the ‘victim’ and it seemed many people’s football allegiances seemed to give them a ridiculous stance on proceedings with fans on both side of the city deciding to be literally judge and jury. However, there was nothing United could do but it seemed the shock of the conviction carried over the following day as United lost at MK Dons despite taking 6,000 fans. A late winner with virtually the last kick of stoppage time saw Wednesday now within a point. The following week after Wednesday won again United went 2-0 behind at home in front of an expect full house and only a late fight back pinched a point against Stevenage. However, the advantage had now gone and Wednesday now had to merely win their last game to seal promotion against already relegated Wycombe.
May - United went to Exeter with a big following once again but news coming in from S6 was not good and the Owls were up. Beattie ridiculously got himself sent off as United ended up drawing their own game. United once again had to go through the agony of the playoffs. The Evans blow had hit the side hard but failure to take any wins from the last three games and Wednesday winning all three meant the unthinkable had happened. As Wednesday held a civic reception United had to traipse down to Stevenage and do it all again. A creditable 0-0 draw in the first leg was followed by an equally dour game in the second with United missing both Cresswell and then McDonald through injury.
However, United did just about enough to win and a late Porter header sent the Blades to Wembley.United went into their fourth playoff final but McDonald was ruled out and with striking options severely limited, United opted to play it tight and had a 4-5-1 formation again. In front of around 30,000 fans that had spent a fortune to get there it was another limp Wembley performance in front of the now traditional searing hear. Despite outstanding performance from Quinn, Maguire and even Simonsen, the Blades never really looked like scoring and were fortunate to get to penalties. Predictably United lost both tosses and the kicks were taken away from the United fans. After Huddersfield missed their first 3, it seemed like unthinkably United may do it. Key misses from Lowton and Taylor put paid to that and United were forever playing catch up taking their kick second. They kept hanging in there until it went to the keepers and as Steve Simonsen stepped up you never felt confident he would score and so it proved. His ballooned effort went high into the jubilant Huddersfield fans and as he lay prostrate on the ground, most other United players lay on the turf motionless. United had blown it again. Not only at the end of the season but also in another show piece final.
Once again as with other seasons where United had been so close, there was so many ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. Across the city what if Wednesday had not had their spine of their team provided by talented loanees that did not belong to them? What if they had kept Megson? Closer to home what if Simonsen had just made one less mistake, what if we had beaten Wednesday at least once, what if we hadn’t thrown away the Oldham game (and the Walsall game that came with it – a 2 for 1 if you like), what if we had signed better loan strikers or ones that had stayed fit/not got suspended? What if Mr Evans had not gone out on that fateful night or not participated in the events that affectively may have ruined his life and career whatever the murmuring about his perceived guilt/innocence? What if Beattie had scored at the end v Stevenage? What if Lowton had scored that penalty? You can go on and on. United amassed 90 points and scored 92 goals. It should have been enough but it wasn’t. We played some lovely football at times and it was completely different to the seasons that had gone before. Yes, there were some truly shocking opposition and maybe when it mattered we could not do it (2 wins from 10 against the top 5) but no one can argue they had not enjoyed the season and felt energised by watching the Blades again. Sadly it was all for nought.
United are now stuck in the third tier of the football league and with their rivals threatening to leave them behind for some time. With rumours over departures of key men such as Lowton, Maguire and Quinn and uncertain futures for out of contract players McDonald and Williamson, the future is very uncertain. The club is losing money rapidly and it may have to face up more years of cost cutting and further losses to the playing staff. Hopefully we can see a better result in terms of players arriving and that the previously poor scouting system (at least in terms of players recruited externally) can bring in some pace, athleticism and hunger. Surely United are still attractive to most players outside the top two divisions and if we can cherry pick some of these better players and keep the nucleus of the side there is no reason why we cannot be around the top 6 at least again next year. If we do lose some of the aforementioned players and incoming players resemble the likes of Flynn and Porter then we are in danger of being sucked into several years of mediocrity in this division. It is going to be another key summer and one that for most United fans is hard to take after getting so close to returning the to the Championship at the first attempts after many, including myself, had never thought this possible a year ago.
Board / Club
Kevin McCabe - My thoughts on McCabe and the board differ a little to last year. He was much maligned after what had happened the previous season after we had gone thought 3 managers (all pretty disastrous ones at that) and relied on loans again (After saying we would not) and failed to bring in any kind of investment. The move to bring in Trevor Birch had been an expensive mistake as he oversaw a shocking spell and failed to bring in any new money. His forays into foreign lands had not brought any benefits to SUFC and he generally oversaw as owner an awful spell in which we had plummeted down two divisions, managed to squander funds badly, appoint bad manager after bad manager and sell any kind of decent young talent.
As for this season well he made a bold move (and it seemed it was his move with Birch, Robinson etc out of the picture) appointing Wilson and you have to say it worked. Yes, I know we did not go up but we finished with a massive points tally and played some lovely football at times. For once maybe he made the right call. He also did not sell Montgomery, Evans, Williamson, Lowton, Maguire etc when maybe he could have done. He allowed some big earners to stay (of course we will never know how many bids were made). He did give Wilson the opportunity to bring others in and whilst the signings were a mixed bag, you could not say he did not get the chance to bring re-inforcements in. It was hardly his fault the likes of Beattie, Porter, Hoskins, O’Halloran did not pay off. If we had signed say Antonio rather than Beattie, there is no question we would be promoted and I would hazard a guess our man was on much higher wages. So not sure what else McCabe could have done this year really? Yes Slew went but I think we got a superb deal for 2 million for someone who had barely convinced even at this level.
McCabe has been at nearly every game this year and his presence seems to indicate he is still interested. He says he is propping up the club with his money and needs outside help and it is hard to argue with this but he now needs to have one last push to propel the club or needs to try harder to find a replacement/new investor. At the moment we are sort of bobbing around but then again 1 goal here or there and we go up and everyone says what a good McCabe has done (keeping the core of the squad and appointing Wilson). The margins are so slim but sadly that is how business and football is judged and ultimately McCabe is owner and has overseen our decline to become the biggest underachieving club in the country (in terms of history/fans/ground/size of club etc). Last season he said himself was ‘successful but a failure.’ That oxymoron in many ways does sum things up.
It is odd that Chris Steer is our chairman but we never hear anything from him? Indeed it seems like him and the others lack the financial clout to help McCabe and as he said the other day we have to somehow try and get this outside investment.
In terms of other things outside of the playing aspects; the ground is
still impressive even though it would be great if they could redevelop the Kop and do a few other bits and pieces. This of course is not a priority at the moment. I think that the pitch was very poor much of last season and it does not help that the Eagles are playing there; how much do we actually get out of this arrangement/surely it cannot be much?
I think the match day prices are ridiculous for this level for pay on the day and means most casual fans will only bother for the occasional offer games meaning we are restricted to season ticket holders and a few others most games. I can see the average being around 15,000 next season as we lose more fans the longer we stay in this division. To be fair the deals for season ticket holders for all ages/types are really good I feel.
It is good to see the fans being canvassed about improvements to the match day experience. The catering/prices are very poor and the continued defiance to play the ‘Tom Hark’ music is at the least irritating (most fans do not want it anymore). However praise to the ticket office as for the most part they handled the Exeter/PO final ticket scenarios very well and the online system is a big improvement and a massive help (albeit temperamental at times).
I do like the new shirt (not the shorts and would prefer white socks) and for all their critics it seems we get more money from Macron that we would from bigger companies and at least they make bespoke strips rather than identikit ones that many of these bigger suppliers provide.
As an aside I do think the club handled the Evans situation fairly well throughout the season/court case and then the verdict. They kept their dignity and dealt with the situation; re- Connor Brown well. I will add though that I think they maybe could have put a statement on saying they were going to review the whole situation (re-Evans contract) at the end of the season and due to appeal it was inappropriate to comment (rather than just putting up the solicitors statement which was nothing to do with United as a club?). They then kind of snook him on the released list thinking no one would notice! The silence on it I suppose is one way to handle it and by saying nothing they have said it all. Any appeal is going to take at least a year and he may even be released before any re-trial/appeal is heard. He will not play for this club again and United have to move on.
I think McCabe would admit that the last 3 or 4 years have been a disaster but then last season he/we almost managed to finally start the ascent back to acceptability both in terms of the way the team played and the way the club operated (one manager all season, a mostly consistent team and less player departures/reliance on loanees). However, ultimately we are in the same position now as we were last season and thus McCabe is still under pressure to deliver. If we sell further players and get off to a bad start the pressure will heap on him and Wilson. That is why he must make positive moves to support Wilson.
Worryingly, he seems to have already set up our fans for the loss of Lowton and Maguire by saying the usual ‘if a bid comes in to the player there is little we can do….’ This is disappointing and if we did sell these two (and/or Quinn) his words about us wanting to bounce back quickly and go up will prove to be empty. If those 3 (and McDonald) go we can forget promotion next year and it will be a long road back.
I am still a little unsure whether he sees himself being our owner long term but at the moment he has no choice as no one wants to take his debts off him and pay him off. He has to battle on and somehow turn around the mess that for the most part he has accounted for himself. Even if he gets the debts down (albeit is debts) to a manageable level and can get us back to a stable Championship squad then at least he has restored some parity. At the moment we are sadly in a far worse situation financially and playing than we ever were when he took over. He had a lot of work to do to restore any kind of respect with most supporters who only see us in the worst position league they have been for the last 25 years.
Danny Wilson - I have to be honest and admit I did not want him as our manager. He had failed at clubs in the lower divisions and his halcyon days as manager at Barnsley as he took them to the top flight, seemed a long time ago. I did not care about his Wednesday links (if we had appointed Paul Jewell I would not have minded – as an example) more about his poor record in recent times. However, he spoke well when he came in and showed a refreshing honesty. He was assuming and was dignified in everything he did. From the off it was clear he wanted the ball being played on the floor and the football whilst patient was good to watch. We seemed to want to build from the back and even the defenders played it out. He encouraged likes of Maguire and Lowton to bring it out of defence and wanted likes of Quinn, McDonald and Williamson to get on the ball. We created lots of chances and he suddenly got the best out of players who had been written off only a year ago; such as Doyle, Collins and Evans. We scored goals freely and attacked, even away from home.
For us to score 4’s and 5’s routinely was great to see. We always were able to keep the ball down and try and make the extra pass. At times we maybe took too many touches or were too patient building up! He got the crowd on his side gradually and was able to get a settled side (mostly settled defence) that was organised, committed and always gave everything. There were few games you came away and thought the effort was lacking and if we lost it was usually down to an individual mistake or sloppy set play rather than an awful performance. Indeed there were no games I can recall where we were completely outplayed. We went on long winning runs and seemed to gain momentum as the season went on and other than Oldham/Walsall game from early December to late April the form and results were very consistent. The biggest compliment I can pay him is that I enjoyed the season for the most part and I have not said that for quite a few years. Sure we played some rubbish sides but you can only beat what is in front of you and for the most part we did that well.
In terms of the negatives; you could argue we never really did it against the better sides. Yes, we smashed goals past struggles and beat the sides like Bury, Rochdale etc but when it mattered we seemed to not quite do it. You could also say he/we bottled it at the end with the 3 results at the end of the season when we seemingly had it in our clutch. He was praised for getting us right to the brink but could not see us over the edge (albeit in difficult circumstances after the Evans court case).
I do feel he never really addressed the complete lack of pace in the side. We were crying out for more speed and a chance to get at teams out wide but after Phillips went back we looked very one paced. I suppose it worked with all the goals/wins but we just needed that extra zip in the last third and we never really had it. The last 3 games with the one paced strikers we had left was painful to watch and whilst many say Wilson had no choice, he ought to have addressed it a while ago as they knew that the course case was looming. Maybe if Hoskins or O’Halloran had paid off it would not have been an issue but they did not pay off.
Also I do feel his signings were on the whole not the best. He got in McDonald and also Phillips/Clarke on loan and they all did well with McDonald being a key man. Francois and Flynn were ok without being spectacular but others did not work. Porter, Beattie, Williams, O’Halloran, Mendez Laing, Hoskins all never really paid off and in the forward positions he never really gave Evans support he needed which showed when he was unavailable. I suppose Beattie and Hoskins on the face of it seemed decent signings but they did not work. He never properly sorted the keeping situation out as we muddled along with Simonsen in goal and we also never properly sorted the left back position out with Francois’ injury being a big factor.
Overall though he did a very good job. He handled himself well and was very calm and assured. He got us playing a nice style of football and but for one kick here or there we would have gone up. On last season alone you have to say his appointment has been a good one despite us not going up. Many tabbed us for mid-season at the start of the campaign and even though we held onto more players than we thought I still don’t think many would have thought we would get 90 points.
Frank Barlow - Barlow did not say much nor was he interviewed much in the press, but seems to have been Wilson’s trusty number 2 most of his managerial career. He seems to quietly do an effective job and being a Sheffield lad and a Blades growing up knows how much it means to the fans.
Chris Morgan - His playing career is probably over sadly. He has not played for 18 months and I cannot see how he can come back now. I hope I am wrong. He seems to have done a decent job on the coaching side and has helped the reserves to the title. He seems the sort of guy that could do a good job on this front and now that is surely where his future now lies. I am sure he is doing all his badges and hopefully his strong leadership can continue to be an asset to us moving forward.
Paul Crichton - is our goalkeeping coach but he seems to have not been able to install any kind of confidence in Steve Simonsen whose decision making/inability to take crosses seems to have got no better. Similarly George Long actually may have regressed this year. Worrying that our keepers are getting worse rather than better. Be interesting to see what happens with Howard if he becomes the regular number one.
Bill Dearden - was brought in to head up the scouting network but so far other than McDonald, Phillips and Clarke, the signings both loan and full have been quite ordinary to poor. I hope now with longer time in the job we can come up with better than Flynn, Porter, O’Halloran, Mendez Laing etc that hardly set the place alight. I think our scouting and signings over the last few years have been really, really poor and I struggle to recall many good signings we have made especially less heralded ones who we pick up from the lower divisions who have hunger and pace and give us something different. It is a big summer for Dearden and his team who should have been doing their work regardless of what division we may have been in. I will be looking closely at who he identifies for Wilson to bring in as I expect better than what we have seen so far. It was mostly the existing players that had been here before Wilson arrived (credit him for work with Evans, Doyle, Collins etc) that got us up to where we were rather than inspired new signings. Charlton did it last year (and maybe PNE) are doing it this year signing a lot of players for little money/Bosmans and putting together a fresh and exciting group that maybe were not known but were players on the up. We need that. Not ageing has beens (Cresswell, Porter, Beattie, Hill) after one last pay deal. These such players would be on less wages too and want to move up the leagues.
John Pemberton - Pemberton has been less prominent this season at least in terms of being in the media and seems to more in the background under Wilson than he was under Speed/Adams where I often saw him with the managers or more involved. He seems to be firmly back working with the youth team after some speculation had put him in with a shot of the first team job a year ago. The youth team did not have as many successful results this year but having lost many to the first team/reserves that was not surprising. Hopefully he now can be working with the next bunch to try and challenge for the first team. I heard some rumours about Pemberton may leave that were eventually denied but it does seem his role has lessened somewhat this season so it may be one to keep an eye on.
The Academy has obviously brought a great deal of money into the club and I hear McCabe saying we will have more young/developmental players coming through next season but I have not seen many that could do a Naughton/Walker/Maguire/Lowton as Long has not convinced and it seems others like Kennedy and Whitehouse are still a bit off being first team regulars. Development players like Philliskirk, Tonne, Warren, Connelly, Harriott, McAllister have not really had the impact many would have though and quite a few have or will move on as if they are not ready now will they ever be ready (some have gone on loan and failed even further down the leagues?)
Wilson has done a very good job but we failed to go up and now the pressure might really be on. Wthout Evans we did not look the same side in the closing stages of the season and with him no longer on the books and McDonald maybe gone, it remains to be seen if we can play the same kind of flowing football we have done. Without those two we did not look the same and started to go more route one. If we do lose others such as Quinn, Lowton and Maguire, it is going to be hard for him unless he can bring in better players than the ones he has already.
I am fearful if we do not get off to a good start then some of the fans will wrongly (if he loses key players) make him a scapegoat. I worry that if we are around mid table or lower around Autumn time then some of those that never wanted him may rear their ugly heads again. I already heard a few ridiculous comments leaving Wembley saying he should be got rid of. Seriously. I hope not. I hope he can continue the nice brand of football, we can somehow keep most of the team, add a quality striker to replace Evans and get some pace and youth into the side. Whatever happens he deserves to stay in charge and shape another squad to try and go up. It is going to be key to him not only keeping players but also who he brings in. Chris Powell (and Megson/Dave Jones) did it well; much better than him on the whole. We sign 2 or 3 good players who pay off this year and a few loanees (and keep say 2 or 3 of Quinn, McDonald, Lowton and Maguire) then there is no reason in a seemingly weaker division why we cannot be near the top again. If we don’t do those things and get off to a poor start you can see us being in this division and going through more managers again for the foreseeable.
Simonsen did so well on loan a few years ago but had a really bad season last year and this year was not much better. He had spells of good games and actually finished the season really well. It was not his fault we lost the final as he gave a good performance and was down to one kick. A n awful kick but it should never have got to him. I actually felt sorry for him as he seems a really nice guy and honest about everything. However, I then look back at think of the bad things this season and of that there are many.
He is not bad positionally on shots and a fairly decent shot stopper but his decision making is awful. He does not command his box and won’t come for balls either through balls or crosses. He also routinely makes stupid mistakes. The thing that annoyed me most is that he would not commicate with his defenders at all and this caused major problems all season.
A quick look at games this season and you see how many goals he has cost us:
Walsall (H) - Cost us 2 goals. Should have saved Hurst's shot; save and then did not take a cross and it led to another goal.
Wednesday (H) - Came and missed 2 punches leading to 2 goals.
Preston (A) - Header that somehow bounced up and over him into the goal.
Orient (A) - Certain win taken away by a weak punch that led to a goal
Huddersfield (H) - Weak parry led to Novak goal. Another 2 crosses went in when he was nowhere near them.
Charlton (H) - Header in six yard box - should have got cross.
He then had a decent spell and played well in a flurry of games and was superb at Huddersfield but then a further series of poor mistakes/inability to take cross/he through ball came back again:
Oldham (H) - Through ball for Maguire sending off - he stood on line.
Tranmere (H) - Header from almost on the line.
Bournemouth (H) - Not aware of danger and cost us goal with throw out into player.
That is 12/13 goals I am afraid. Pretty damning evidence. That is not including the ones that did not cost us goals.
He has had some decent games and did make some good saves but for a team near the top that is a lot of mistakes. As I say he was a nice guy and seemed as genuine as a footballer can be but with a better keeper this year we would have gone up. He was on a decent wage too I am sure and thus his release was an obvious decision and was completely correct. I am sure he will find another club at this level or in league two but he will probably always be remembered for some of the above mistakes and ultimately for his missed penalty kick at Wembley.
Long was seen as a real prospect and looked decent against Man Utd in the Youth Cup. Tall, athletic and quite commanding for one so young; he seemed to be ready to press for the first team and had made his debut at Swansea the previous season. He got his chance after Simonsen’s errors and did well against MK Dons but the following week he had a nightmare against Exeter and contributed to 2 or 3 of the 4 goals. His confidence was completely shot and rightly he was taken out of the limelight. He needed to be put out on loan but that ever happened as teams also probably did not want a young keeper learning his trade between their sticks! He ended back up in the Academy team and was not even in the reserves by season end with Howard coming it to be number two. It has been a backward step for Long this season as he went from being linked with Premiership teams to being back playing in front of a few fans at windy Shirecliffe. Next season is a big season as he will have to make inroads into the first team here or get out on loan. He cannot just be in the reserves/youth team for another season.
I must admit that I don’t know much about Howard. Apparently he is highly rated and seen as someone who could be our number one but I must admit it concerns me that at 25 we are his eight club. He has left clubs quite quickly and never ever made himself a legitimate number one even losing his place at backwaters like St Mirren and Aberdeen. Maybe we have seen something others have not but I have my reservations based on his history.
Player / Position Years remaining (contract expires)
Mark Howard 1 year (2014)
George Long 4 years(2016)
It seems unless something happens to allow us to get another experienced keeper for a season long loan or ones is suddenly released; we will go into the season with Howard and Long. Howard will probably get the first chance at the number one. I don’t think United necessarily see that Howard is much better than Simonsen and I think if it was not for finances then Simonsen would have been kept and we would bumbled along for another season. I hope Howard gets off to a good start and can command his box/take crosses. I don’t expect him to make stunning saves but do the basics and control his area/defence.