It was a busy 2013 for the Blades as far as back-room staff go, with no less than three permanent first team managers and two spells in caretaker charge for Chris Morgan during the calendar year.
As 2014 fast approaches, we take a quick look at how they fared and their individual records for the year…
1st Jan 2013 to 10th April 2013
[table id=4 /]
Cup[table id=5 /]
Combined[table id=6 /]
Danny Wilson kicked off the Blades 2013, with a draw against Doncaster Rovers at the Keepmoat; giving surprise starts to youngsters Elliott Whitehouse and Terry Kennedy (who came in to partner Danny Higginbotham at centre back in the absence of both Collins and Maguire). In what was a disappointing performance overall for the Blades, Joe Ironside managed to spark a revival from the bench in drawing Andy Griffin into bringing him down for a penalty which Nick Blackman converted. Dave Kitson was on hand to grab a last grasp equaliser after Matt Hill had hit the post, to ensure United kicked off the year with a point.
A mixed four months was to follow, save for a fantastic return from February, the Blades struggling with consistency and drawing too many games to give them a chance of cementing a place in the top two as the 2012/2013 season approached it’s finale.
After losing most of the attacking impetus of the previous season, Wilson had tried to make the Blades more solid and as a result, the number of draws increased. We picked up points, but struggled to put teams to the sword and push into the top two places.
Growing impatient with the apparent inability to win home matches consistently, Kevin McCabe took the decision to relieve Wilson of his duties, stating that statistics told him the run was likely to continue and ensure that United missed out on promotion. The idea was, the change in management, with Chris Morgan and David Unsworth taking charge of a “mini season” would prove the catalyst to go on and secure promotion. Sadly, the bold move failed and Wilson could consider himself perhaps unfortunate to be out of work with the lack of improvement and in fact regression that followed.
Chris Morgan (Caretaker)
10th April 2013 to 10th June 2013 & 11th October 2013 to 23rd October 2013
[table id=7 /]
With Danny Wilson sacked, Chris Morgan was asked to step up from his coaching role and take temporary charge of the team with the assistance of David Unsworth.
Sitting in fifth position in the league with one or two games in hand over the closest rivals and six points off an automatic promotion place, Morgs was charged with the task of firing up the squad and winning as many of the remaining games as possible.
His mission started well, with a good win at home against sixth placed Swindon Town, Chris Porter and Dave Kitson with the goals allowing Blades fans to express a glimmer of optimism. What followed most probably knocked the stuffing out of the charge, with the visit of fellow challengers Brentford. In a frantic game which featured two penalties and three sendings off, it was a last minute Bradley Wright-Phillips equaliser that would see the energy and optimist waiver.
Two draws and two losses followed, consigning the Blades to the play offs once again and despite a first leg win, a toothless performance away at Yeovil saw United’s season finish disappointingly.
A dejected Morgs trudged across to the away terrace and begged the travelling support to “stick with us, we’ll get it right, we’ll get the squad”. Morgan however, was back coaching at the beginning of the following season with David Weir having been installed as manager (see below).
Morgan was to outlast the new man and found himself trusted in temporary charge again on the 13th October as the Blades travelled to the new temporary “home” of Coventry City. There was to be no instant success this time around however, as the Blades found themselves 3-0 down after 49 minutes. The travelling Blades and television viewers were treated to a glimpse of passion and fight however, with the Blades mounting a spirited attempt at a comeback and making things uncomfortable for the Sky Blues, Lyle Taylor grabbing a couple of goals.
Morgan went on to oversee a 2-1 home win against Port Vale and a strong performance in an away draw with Peterborough before handing over the reigns to Nigel Clough. The club made a point of thanking Morgan for his help and explaining that Morgan would have a big part to play in Clough’s management team.
10th June 2013 to 11th October 2013
[table id=8 /]
[table id=9 /]
[table id=10 /]
After a longer recruitment period than in recent times, David Weir was unveiled as the new first-team manager on the 10th June 2013. Signing a three year contract, it was communicated that the primary aim was to secure promotion and that the appointment was to be one for the long term – encouraging a change in club culture.
The board were confident that they had chosen the right man and were at pains to confirm that he was their number one choice and impressed with his overall vision for the future of the club.
Having impressed in his coaching spells thus far, Julian Winter told the fans that Weir presented a near identical blueprint as to how he would like the club to run and was an ideal match moving forward.
Weir was to begin his Blades career with a pre-season in his homeland and wins at Greenock Morton (match report & photos) and Raith Rovers (match report) sandwiched a draw with Cowdenbeath (match report & photos). Weir used the opportunity to see as many of his squad as possible, often changing the entire team at half time and changes in approach were evident from the off, with new warm up routines and a concentration on passing and possession football.
Weir and his management team talked a good game and on paper, it sounded like a positive approach by enthusiastic and confident individuals who had enjoyed long playing careers at the top of the game.
The league season kicked off with a positive start, United beating 10-man Notts County 2-1 in what was seen as an encouraging performance with Weir once again getting the best out of a rejuvenated Kevin McDonald.
As pleasing as the start was, unfortunately for the Blades and Weir himself, it was a diamond in the rough and was to be his only League win as Sheffield United manager. Kevin McDonald, who Weir had seemingly built his team and system around, departed for Wolves and a run of 13 games without a win in normal time plagued the start to his managerial career.
The only other victory Weir tasted as Sheffield United manager was a 5-3 win on penalties against Scunthorpe United in the Johnstones Paint Trophy after a drab 0-0 draw.
Despite the original calls of patience and long term change, the run simply couldn’t continue and on the 11th October 2013, Weir was sacked with United sitting 22nd in League One and the joint lowest scorers in the Football League. The sacking followed a defeat by League Two Hartlepool in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy sparking an awkward post match interview in which for the first time, Weir looked a broken man.
23rd October 2013 onwards
[table id=11 /]
[table id=12 /]
[table id=13 /]
After 3 games with Chris Morgan in temporary charge, Nigel Clough was appointed as the third permanent manager of the year and the fourth man to try and steer the Blades back in the right direction and out of the third tier.
Having been sacked by Derby County in September, the Blades had to be patient to get their man, who was understood to have been keen to resolve with his former club the situation of both himself and his staff who were placed on “gardening leave” following his dismissal.
Clough was seen as the ideal man by the board, with a track record of integrating academy players and enjoying long tenures at his previous clubs. Speaking in the press conference to confirm his arrival, Kevin McCabe and new co-owner Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud spoke glowingly of the new manager pointing out his experience, energy, confidence and proven track record.
Bringing Gary Crosby and Andy Garner with him, Clough also appointed his brother Simon as part of the scouting structure and pointed out that Chris Morgan would be part of the setup.
Clough took charge of his first game on the 26th October 2013, seeing his side run out 3-1 winners over Crewe Alexandra going on to losses against Shrewsbury and Gillingham in the league either side of a cup victory away at Colchester United.
The new gaffer’s first priority was to make his side solid and stop conceding as many goals, a sensible approach given the precarious position in the relegation zone.
With a no-nonsense approach and seemingly having a habit of saying the right things as far as many supporters are concerned, Clough expressed a cautious approach to the shortly arriving January transfer window with most of his changes set to come in the close season rather than wholesale transformations at the beginning of the New Year.
Clough’s men saw the year out with an eight match unbeaten run (league and cup) with league victories over Bristol City, Swindon and Tranmere helping a rise to seventeenth in the table, allowing the Blades supporters to start to cautiously look up, rather than down.