Doncaster v Sheff Utd: Blades underachieving

Nigel Adkins -

Nigel Adkins –

This blog was sceptical of Sheffield United’s promotion credentials in pre-season but not for a moment did anybody think they would be 11th at this stage.

The main problem appears to be the lack of pace in their team. With the large budget Nigel Adkins was afforded in the summer, he went for what you might think would be the ‘safe’ route of bringing in experienced, proven players. The likes of Billy Sharp and Martyn Woolford have played in the Championship before and, theoretically, would be a class above League One. However, neither of them are particularly quick. There are a lot of players in the team who have experience at a higher level, but do not have much pace, meaning opposing defences often sit, organized and untroubled.

The Blades look likely finish outside the play-offs this season but Adkins, going into perhaps the most important summer of his career, must learn that lesson. The former Reading boss has already stated his intentions to get more academy graduates into his team and although Sheffield United don’t want to become overly reliant on kids, there is a need for youthful exuberance.

The other problem is a lack of fluency in their play. This comes from, perhaps, a combination of inconsistent tactics and rigid instructions. Players look so keen to adhere to Adkins’ system that they do not take initiative when they need to. When Sheffield United went to Old Trafford, the strict tactics helped and kept the team organized. However, against the Blackpools and Swindons of League One, it is important to sustain a high tempo and play with a sense of unpredictability. If players are trying to stick to definitive instructions, it is harder for the team to do that.

32 players have already been used this season and only Chris Basham, Neill Collins and Billy Sharp have started more than 20 out of 29 league games. Without a more stable group of players, it is harder to build a team ethos.

Darren Ferguson has also had to make changes to his side in recent weeks, but perhaps not out of choice, with key players out through injury. Although, a number of those players could return on Saturday. Striker Nathan Tyson has been a huge miss for his side over the last few weeks and it is no coincidence that he was fit for – and scored in – the last league win, a 3-0 success at Southend. Ferguson tried to replace the former Derby man by bringing in Lynden Gooch on loan from Sunderland, but he does not stretch defences in the same way Tyson did and offers little in build-up play. Arguably, the very fact that Doncaster still rely on an injury-prone 33-year-old for pace is in itself cause for concern and Ferguson may address that issue in the summer.

Another key man coming back is Andy Butler. The centre-back was best known for his leadership qualities at Walsall, against whom Donny lost 2-1 last time out, with three of their four defenders in that match being under 25. Given the unreliability of Rob Jones’ fitness, the team needs an experienced, dominant centre-back like Butler, who can bully strikers in the air and organize those around him. Doncaster are starting to get the spine of their team back, which might help them play out the final three months of the campaign in good form and push for a top-half finish.

League One Predictions
Fixture Prediction
Burton v Chesterfield Spireites couldn’t break down 9 men last week. 2-0
Blackpool v Shrewsbury Shrewsbury struggle against the teams around them 2-1
Colchester v Swindon Swindon stronger at the back with Nathan Thompson fit 0-2
Coventry v Bury Now is the time for Coventry to find some tactical consistency 2-1
Crewe v Walsall Crewe unbeaten in 4, Walsall without 2016 league clean sheet 2-2
Doncaster v Sheff Utd Blades have drawn successive blanks, quiet Yorkshire derby 1-1
Gillingham v Barnsley Tykes not taken a point off a team in top five since September 3-1
Peterborough v Bradford Wes Thomas has improved Bradford’s attack 1-2
Port Vale v Fleetwood Valiants don’t lose at home, Fleetwood must be more clinical 1-0
Rochdale v Millwall Dale starting to thrive against better teams 1-1
Scunthorpe v Southend Both teams in good form, Shrimpers to nick it 1-2
Wigan v Oldham Teams at opposite ends for a reason, Wigan superior Latics 3-1
Last week… 0 perfect scores, 4 correct results/10