Lying in 20th place and just one point outside the League 1 relegation zone, Sheffield United are in their worst position for over 31 years. The appointment of David Weir sat well amongst the majority of Blades fans, but six games in, those that nodded and supported could be forgiven for questioning whether the Scotsman is the right man for the job. No matter how bad the season has been so far for United however, the damage was done long before Weir stepped into The Lane.
Darius Henderson: 2010/11 – injury
Following the departure of James Beattie the then manager Kevin Blackwell made no secret of the fact that Darius Henderson was ready to be Sheffield United’s main striker that year. Having scored 12 league goals under the guidance of Beattie the previous season, he was clearly ready to lead the line himself. Unfortunately for Blades fans, Henderson failed to shake off lingering injuries. Having torn his hamstring and twisted his knee, Henderson was out for nearly 9 months, missing the majority of United’s season. His replacement, £3million man Ched Evans struggled to develop into the player Blackwell had hoped as he struggled with his weight and his form. Henderson returned to action against Watford in mid-March but The Blades lost 3-0 and he was sent off for two bookable offences. At 23rd in the table and 6 points from safety, relegation was a huge possibility. You can’t help but think his return to action was all too little too late. Sheffield United were relegated to League 1.
Ched Evans: 2011/12 – imprisonment
When Ched Evans signed for £3 million, more than a few eyebrows were raised. Having failed to turn into the superstar many had hoped at Manchester City, paying such a steep sum seemed like a strange move. However, after a poor season in The Championship, Evans came back the following year looking fitter, sharper and more confident. November and December saw the Welshman grab 12 goals in 10 games, making him one of the in-form strikers in the country. Whilst Charlton were running away with the League 1 title, United looked certainties for a second place finish and a return to The Championship. But with his court case coming to a close and a verdict imminent, a goal in a 3-1 victory against Leyton Orient was to be Ched Evans’ last for Sheffield United. The Blades were four points ahead of third place but took just one from their last three matches in what proved to be a complete loss of form. They were pipped to promotion by city rivals Wednesday. The loss of their 35 goal man has to be looked at as the pivotal role in The Blades’ failure to get promoted.
Nick Blackman: 2012/13 – sold
Following the heartbreak of the previous season, a long with the loss of their main striker Ched Evans, Danny Wilson found a suitable replacement in Nick Blackman. The former Blackburn striker played a key role in a number of 1-0 victories for The Blades and looked to be their main hope of promotion second time round. Whilst United found themselves dominating matches, chances and more importantly goals, were few and far between. Blackman’s appearances were paramount. But when Premier League Reading approached the club in January, The Blades had no option to sell the player. He left for a fee thought to be worth around £1.75 million. Wilson’s biggest downfall was not replacing Blackman, who scored 14 goals in the first half of the campaign. However, without Blackman, a fine February left United top of the table and in an excellent position for promotion, but the cracks began to show and United won just 3 of their remaining matches and, more notably, scored just 8 goals in 12 games.
A weakened midfield
Whilst the loss of these three players were, in my opinion, instrumental in the recent downfall of Sheffield United, it is not just the above who have contributed. Lee Williamson was not offered a new contract at The Lane shortly before the start of last season. Williamson was one of Danny Wilson’s most consistent performers throughout the 10/11 scoring 13 goals from midfield.
Another midfielder, Kevin McDonald was sold to League 1 rivals Wolves in August. An excellent performance against Notts County in-front of the Sky cameras proved to be quite an advert for McDonald who was the subject of numerous bids from the West Midlands club. In his post match interview, he talked about his excitement for the season and stated how he was enjoying the freedom of his new role under David Weir. One must think The Blades wouldn’t be where they are now if McDonald was still playing for them.
Sheffield United’s problems should probably be put down partly to bad luck and partly down to the fact they have failed to successfully replace the type of players who have left them, for one reason or another. In signing Lyle Taylor, who scored 30 goals for Falkirk last season, David Weir must have thought he had a striker who would score at this level. But Taylor is yet to find the net in 9 appearances, leaving United’s options very, very limited up-front. January can’t come quick enough.