The review of the season continues with a look at the engine room.
Montgomery’s season was one that never really got going. He was rumoured to be leaving at the end of the previous season but ended up staying, and started last season as skipper. He began by playing alongside Michael Doyle at Oldham. It was clear that these two did not work really well together and eventually, despite a screamer of a goal at Tranmere, Monty was the one who lost out, as Wilson preferred McDonald and Doyle. When he did play, his performances were patchy: the tackling, tenacity and work rate were the same, but so was the limited passing, touch and ball retention. Monty picked up quite a few injuries and was never really a regular for the second part of the season. He then was allowed out on loan to Millwall but this ended before it started really, as he picked up an injury.
He came back but the arrangements of the loan meant he was not available until the play-offs; he came on against Stevenage in the semi-final second leg and did all right, but when McDonald was out for the final, he started against Huddersfield. His performance was absolutely wretched.
The time is now right for a parting of the ways. He has been a brilliant servant and has shown a real commitment to this club, but in some ways he seems to be getting worse.
Quinn’s season began superbly. He came deep and picked up the ball, went in the middle and got into the last third. He made a number of goals, scored a few and really did look a class act in this division, attracting plaudits from rival managers after his impressive performances. But his form dipped around Christmas, and he began to become less influential. He started to run out of gas, too, early in games and stayed predominantly wide left. He had a few shocking games and the crowd started to get on his back. He was even dropped for a few games as we moved into the final stretch of the season.
Despite the drop-off in form, he still set up his fair share of goals and put in some dangerous crosses. Ironically though, not hitting the heights of earlier in the season probably contributed to him staying, as no one came in for him during the January transfer window. Quinn had a resurgence for the play-offs, and was brilliant in both semi-final games, especially the second leg and then excelled again at Wembley. If three or four more had played like him at Wembley, we would have been up. It will be an interesting summer for him, as there can be no doubt that his performances at the end of the season will see some Championship clubs interested. He may want to go, and we cannot begrudge him that, but he will be a key player if we are to mount another promotion challenge.
Doyle’s performances at the back end of the previous campaign, when he arrived from Coventry, were similar to those of Neill Collins: he looked a complete waste of resources. Monty, but worse. However, he began the season fairly well. He was a tough tackler and a nasty little so and so (in a good way, though he should lose some of the theatrics that contributed to players getting sent off). He also was a better passer than Montgomery and formed a good partnership with Kevin McDonald, as they seemed to complement each other’s style.
He became a mainstay in the side and, with Monty and Morgan out, was appointed team captain and seemed to do a decent job leading the side, and spoke well in the press. He ended up playing 43 games. He was nothing flash and at times you could see his limitations, but, like Collins, his performances at this level were chalk and cheese compared to the previous campaign. It is difficult to say whether he would be as effective at a higher level, however for League One and for what he does, he is an ideal player. He will be a certain starter next season.
Many thought that Williamson may move on. His poor disciplinary and fitness records may have helped in him remaining but there were a few clubs that put out feelers on him last summer. He stayed but began the season on the bench, as United preferred new signing Ryan Flynn. He made his first impact when he came on and turned the game against Walsall with an impressive goal, assist and by winning a key penalty.
He stayed in the side and combined well with Matt Lowton, giving a strong partnership down the right, where we often looked a threat. As the season went on, he was able to weigh in with a number of goals and assists. His finishing was very good and there not many occasions when he did not hit the target. He showed his technical ability, always looked to get it down and play, and put some good crosses. His corners were a mixed bag to say the least but he became a vital ingredient and a regular as we went on the impressive run either side of Christmas.
In the big games, though, when it mattered, he seemed to disappear or give a poor performance, notably in the vital home game against Stevenage and at Wembley. But we will be playing most of the same poor sides again next season, so there is no reason why he would not be successful. His finishing is very good and he is a good footballer - too good for this level. He has said that he wants to stay but money talks and it would not be a surprise if he moves on. Just as with Quinn and McDonald, if we want to have another shot at it next year, we need to hold on to him.
McDonald’s promising start to his career had disappeared when he found himself a free agent after being released by Burnley. He had been part of their promotion and Premier League squad and had been seen as a real talent. But he was not part of Eddie Howe’s plans and, after less than successful spells out on loan, he left Turf Moor. He did not find a club over the summer and came on trial before eventually signing and making his debut in the first home game, against Brentford.
He stood out as very tall, quite imposing but more than that, very cultured on the ball. He had a lovely range of passing and never seemed rushed. It was great to finally see this sort of player in a Blades shirt after the much-hyped Britton, Howard and Harper did not work out. The one negative was his fitness - he struggled to last a full game, and to get up and down the pitch as much as you would like in a midfielder. Still, his strengths far outweighed his weaknesses.
As the season went on, he was a vital cog, and his supply to Evans, Lowton and Williamson resulted in many chances and goals. He stood out like a beacon at this level.
When he was injured, and missed games against Wednesday and quite a few others, his absence coincided with a dip in form. He came back and helped us get over the line to the play-offs, but he once again got injured and was not available at Wembley.
We have offered him a new contract and it is imperative that he, above all the rest who are 50/50 in terms of staying or going, remains. With him in the side, and with some fresh blood up front, we can create and score a lot of goals again next season. He may decide that another year in League One, as per Quinn and Williamson, is a waste of 12 months, but it would be great if he rewarded our faith in him.
Flynn was our only cash signing in the summer and was reckoned to be a promising winger. He began the season against Oldham and in his early games he made minimal impact, seeming to lack the strength and pace to really worry full-backs. He lost his place quite early in the season, as Wilson went with Williamson and Quinn out wide. He played in some games but mostly was a sub and when Phillips came in, he went further down the pecking order. But he came back into the team and had an impressive spell just after Christmas, scoring two decent goals in successive games against Notts County and Hartlepool and looked like he could be a goal threat. Sadly, he did not score again and, through a mixture of Williamson’s form and an injury, was more of a squad player. He had a nice cameo in the second half against Stevenage and put in a great cross for Cresswell’s header.
Overall he was disappointing. It is difficult to recall him beating a man and he did not get many crosses in. He seemed a bit scared when he got on the ball and never really went at his man. Maybe it is because he lacks pace, trickery or conviction but he offers very little, and players who work hard, up and down the flank are 10 a penny at this level. He is a useful squad player to have around for cover but for a team going for promotion or the higher level he has not convinced.
Signing Phillips came as a surprise: he had been in and out of the Blackpool Premier League side and had scored a few goals. It was Wilson’s one loan that really paid off. Phillips scored a superb brace at Preston, another against MK Dons (the winner) and scored a further couple in the mad game against Exeter. After he scored another against Bradford in the JP Trophy, he then went back to Blackpool, as we all expected.
Ian Holloway had got exactly what he wanted in terms of the sharpening up and reinvigorating of his player’s confidence. He is now in the Scotland squad and is being linked with moves to the Premier League after Blackpool just missed out on promotion; a game in which his good finishing for once was missing.
Phillips was fast, good on the ball and made and scored goals. He looked a really talented player who had maybe just lost his way. He is not perfect and even at United he had a few poor games (Orient away) but that goes with the territory for a winger.
McAllister had looked quite promising at the back end of the relegation season, scoring a few goals and looking like a midfielder who could get forward and get beyond the strikers, hit the ball well and score a goal; a rarity for a Blades midfielder. His passing and touch seemed more than reasonable even if he did not always get involved in the dirty side of the game. He looked a fair footballer, who, with more games under his belt, might develop.
This season saw him only start four games; he disappeared for a bit and then went on loan to Shrewsbury, where he was a regular in a promotion-chasing side until an unfortunate red card. He came back and was an unused sub in some of the final games. Next season he really has to push on. He has two years left so he has time to try to force his way in. He has some talent but needs to exert himself more when he plays, and get on the ball more. He has a good shot, is a decent passer but seems to lack strength and sometimes games pass him by.
Mendez-Laing arrived just before the season, was a sub in the opening few games and showed a few glimpses of pace and power when he came on. He got a run of starts and scored a fortunate goal with an intended cross against Bury, but overall he did not convince. He overplayed and at times seemed to lack composure or an end product. He seemed to have some ability but at times his touch would let him down and seemed to be carrying excess weight. He got a few injuries, after which he went back to Wolves. Another loan player who did not really work out.
Chappell had a few cameos in the cup games and seemed a regular in the reserves but he may not have enough to really challenge for the first team.
Harriott looked good in the FA Youth Cup games last season. He looked decent on the ball, always wanted to get involved and looked a busy sort of player. He had a few cup appearances earlier in the season and even started at Everton but then disappeared back to the reserves where games are few and far between. He ended up on loan at Burton but that did not work out and he came back. He needs to push on if he ever wants to make it at the Lane.
Tonne showed a few flashes at the back end of the previous season for the reserves and came on in the home game against Middlesbrough. He stayed around and was able to score a few very good goals at Burton in the JP Trophy and also against Bury (a finely taken scissor-kick volley). In that game he showed good pace and vision and looked promising, so it was odd that he somewhat disappeared afterwards. He has another two years left but needs to at least make an impact out on loan if he is going to be considered for selection here.
Nick Montgomery: 1 year (2013)
Stephen Quinn: 1 year (2013)
Kevin McDonald: out of contract/offer made
Lee Williamson: out of contract/offer made
Michael Doyle: 1 year (2013)
Ryan Flynn: 2 years (2014)
David McAllister: 2 years (2014)
Matt Harriott: contract unknown
Jordan Chapell: contract unknown
Erik Tonne: 2 years (2014)
If we can keep our players, the midfield should be our strongest area. If we started with the usual axis of Doyle, McDonald, Williamson and Quinn, we would almost certainly have the strongest midfield in the division. We have some decent back-ups in Montgomery (if he stays), Flynn and McAllister, but if we added a bit of raw pace we would be set in this area.
Sadly, it is unlikely to be as straight forward as this. Of the others, it does not look like Harriott and Chappell are going to make it, but Tonne has some promise. All three need games elsewhere with maybe only the latter being one who could realistically play first-team football with us for more than the odd game.
Flynn needs to show more from an attacking point of view, as he is steady but we need more. If he does not he will be a back-up at best but if others leave he will be relied on more and needs to give us more of a final product.
At least one of the trio of Quinn, McDonald and Williamson are likely to move on, maybe all three. Montgomery is the one who needs to move on but we will probably be stuck with him for his final year.
If some of these do go, we need to act fast and get some replacements with creativity, goals and pace. The club needs to do whatever they can to keep McDonald – he will be key to our midfield, which, in turn, will determine what kind of season we have.