Sheffield United: Wilson forced to turn to fertile crop for success
After losing the League One play-off final on penalties to Huddersfield, Danny Wilson didn’t have the best of summers in re-shaping his Sheffield United team for another assault on promotion.
Hitting a spot of financial difficulty, a summer of transition awaited after the Blades announced they would have to balance the books, leading to a completely different starting eleven for the opening weekend’s game with Shrewsbury with a squad formed with an average age of 22.
It is that reversion to youth that has provided one of the positive points from Sheffield United’s financial plight, with Wilson having to utilise a very prominent youth set-up that has churned out a very gifted group of players.
From the team that competed with Manchester United in the FA Youth Cup final of 2011, striker Jordan Slew now plays for Blackburn while Matt Lowton, the 23 year old right-back, was Paul Lambert’s first signing after taking over at Aston Villa. Wilson also lost Lee Williamson, the winger operating in advance of Lowton on the Blades’ right flank, as he saw his squad shorn of talent, powerless to do anything akin to witnessing the loss of Chedwyn Evans, scorer of 35 league goals before his conviction of rape in May.
With reports of the club operating over its playing budget, Wilson was restrained in his task to form another promotion challenging squad. Replacing Lowton was Walsall’s 21 year old Darryl Westlake, whilst he signed two young strikers, Nick Blackman, 22, and Shaun Miller, 24, from Blackburn and Crewe respectively.
John Cofie, a 19 year old striker, was also brought in, this time on loan from Manchester United. Not treading too far from a new philosophy of installing a youthful, hungry make-up to his squad, Wilson promoted two 18 year old attackers Callum MacFadzean and Joe Ironside, both of whom played in that cup final loss to Ravel Morrison, Paul Pogba and Co. from the academy set-up.
Adding to an already young squad that contained 21 year old Danny Philliskirk, 19 year old defender Harry McGuire and 23 year old David McAllister and such inexperience may have made for a tricky season ahead.
A disjointed performance in the win over Shrewsbury with an 18-man squad that contained no less than seven talents from the club’s academy certainly pointed that way, but this team has seemingly grown together, and quickly, after 16 games the Blades sit in second place in League One, still unbeaten, a remarkable run form based on a strong defence that has kept five clean sheets in its past six games, and a tally of just 10 goals conceded.
This is a back four that contains Westlake and McGuire whilst behind them lies 19 year old goalkeeper George Long who possibly best illustrates Wilson’s reliance, and repayment, from young talent. Coming in for number one Mark Howard after an injury at Leyton Orient, Long has started eight straight games keeping those five clean sheets in the process as a resilient, solid outfit sit at the summit of the third tier.
It doesn’t seem to have fazed Wilson’s unit that long standing members of the squad in Stephen Quinn and Nick Montgomery both departed in a summer of financially motivated upheaval.
Wilson has instilled his faith on what is turning into a very fertile youth system at Bramall Lane and he is being repaid, whilst admittedly it hasn’t been through choice, a reliance on youngsters has been refreshing in Yorkshire and it might even fire them back to the Premier League in the long-term as they show there’s plenty more from where Matt Lowton, already there and impressing with Villa, came from.