Is it simply now or never at Sheffield United?

During Kevin Blackwell’s time at Sheffield United the club has come within 90 minutes away from the Premiership and has narrowly missed out on the play-offs in two and half years at the club. Now preparing for this third full year in charge expectations will be high that the club can at least get in the play-offs in what looks to be a very competitive Championship.

Blackwell arrived at the club in February 2008 following the sacking of Bryan Robson, he was appointed on a caretaker basis until the end of the season. He brought stability to the club in his short time there and didn’t finish too far off the play-offs which was enough to convince the chairman to give him a permanent deal. In his first full season in charge of the Blades, Blackwell earned them a play-off spot where they defeated Preston North End in the semi-finals to set up a tie against Burnley at Wembley. However United were defeated 1-0 by the Clarets to continue their luckless play-off history.

Last season they were amongst the favourites to clinch a play-off place but ended finishing in 8th place, five points off sixth place. However they were in a very tough Championship and realistically there were only going to be two play-off places up for grabs as Nottingham Forest spent a lot of money and Cardiff have a very good team. Next season will be pretty much wide-open even for automatic spots, as all of the sides who have come down from the Premiership are not as strong as the ones that came down last year, this is why Sheffield United must finish at least in sixth place.

He has a strong squad available to him that is more than good enough to finish in the top six but Blackwell will still be looking to add to it. He has already signed goalkeeper Steve Simonsen, midfielders Johannes Ertl and Leon Britton and striker Daniel Bogdanovic all on free transfers. This could be indicative of how his transfer dealings are going to be but it remains to be seen as to whether Blackwell has money to spend or not, he didn’t seem too displeased that striker Billy Sharp turned down a move to Burnley so it could be that there is some money available to him.

United’s squad is currently looking a little threadbare especially in terms of defence with only three senior defenders on their books, so this will be an area that Kevin Blackwell needs to strengthen ASAP.

One player that could be important to Sheffield United’s ambitions is Ched Evans; the Welsh striker was signed from Manchester City last season for £3m but was very disappointing in his first season at the club, managing to score just four times in 33 appearances. His time at the club has been similar to Billy Sharp who re-joined the club in 2007 for £2m but also endured a goalscoring drought before a prolific loan-spell at Doncaster last season. It’s fair to say that both men could be imperative to United’s season and both will be looking to ensure that they can score plenty of goals for the side.

As long as Kevin Blackwell can bring in the right players then there is no reason why Sheffield United can’t have a good season, they could even challenge for the automatic places. However should Blackwell fail to get at least a play-off place then it could be time for him to depart Bramall Lane; next season will definitely be a defining one for the Blades.

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