The review of the season concludes at the sharp, or in many cases blunt, end of the team
Evans’s United career had been disappointing, to say the least, in his first two seasons with the club. Whether he came in for £1.5 or £3 million, it is fair to say he did not have the impact many thought he would. Regarded as a real talent at Man City, he had been a regular in their Premier League squad (before the big money arrived, of course) and it was a bit of a coup when we signed him. But he did not have a consistent run in the side and when he did play, he was very hit and miss.
We all expected him to move on in the summer but then news of a possible misdemeanour off the field meant there could be a possible court case looming. This, coupled with his high wages, kept him at the Lane, although he did not start the season due to an injury.
When he finally appeared, he came off the bench at Scunthorpe and scored, but for the next few weeks he was in and out of the side. With Phillips and Clarke coming in, he was still not a first-team regular, although he scored a few goals, the one against Wednesday standing out. After coming on and scoring a free-kick at Stevenage, he became a regular, beginning against Oxford in the FA Cup, and went on an incredible run, scoring 30 goals in 30 games and eventually finishing with 35 for the season.
He looked a different player and was scoring goals from all over; free-kicks, penalties, poacher’s goals, one on ones, scrambled efforts; the lot. He showed pace we never thought he had and his movement and link play was superb. More than anything, he showed hunger, desire and work rate we had never seen from him on a regular basis. He became our talisman and, along with Jordan Rhodes at Huddersfield, was clearly the most dangerous and sought-after player in the division.
He did not have much help with partners, many being hit and miss; Cresswell’s work rate was the only option that really worked and they formed a decent partnership in the sense that Evans was able to profit.
Evans looked the complete striker and, though we were playing against lesser sides, there was the clear sense that the penny had dropped and that Wilson was getting the best out of him. At times he was our best winger and playmaker too. He looked like scoring every time we went forward.
Then the court case began, just after Rochdale away. From the outside there appeared to be reasonable doubt, so it was a shock to many when he was convicted of rape, especially when the other defendant was acquitted.
The conviction caused the season to unravel, with the team failing to win the final three games, perhaps begging the question: would United have got anywhere near the automatic promotion places without Ched Evans?
Grade (for performance on the pitch) A-
Cresswell had been impressive in his loan spell but did not have the same impact once he signed a three-year deal, though he began last season very well with goals in his opening three league games.
He was partnered mostly with Chris Porter in the opening part of the season and, though they lacked pace and movement, they had the nous and experience to get a few goals and help us to get to the top of the league.
But then Cresswell went on a long drought and did not score again until late October, followed by more long spells without goals; after scoring at Bury in January, he went 16 games without a goal and without looking like scoring, which was less than impressive at this level.
He ended up playing by default, as we did not have any other real options, though his work ethic and freed up space for Evans. They never really formed a partnership in the sense of Cresswell setting up goals for Evans, but the older man escaped criticism due to Evans’s form and because we were winning. He was, however, something of a weak link.
His lack of pace was noticeable and he always seemed shattered, rarely lasting a full game. Despite this he showed his experience at times with some decent hold-up play, linking up with others and the odd goal, though nine league goals was not enough at this level.
He was a regular in the side (51 games in all competitions) for the most part even when the likes of Evans came back and Clarke, Hoskins, O’Halloran and Beattie were drafted in at various stages.
When the Evans court decision came and, with injuries to Hoskins and the sending-off of Beattie, Cresswell was suddenly a key man. He scored against Stevenage and made an impact as we came back in the draw, but only played briefly in the semi-finals, with injury ruling him out of the second leg. He came back against Huddersfield but was ineffective in the final, albeit with little service.
Porter had scored goals in the lower divisions and been successful in Scotland but an awful injury record meant that he struggled to make an impact at Derby. He was released in the summer and United gave him a deal, reckoning he would shake off previous injuries and be able to score goals lower down the ladder.
But he was less than impressive in the opening games and seemed remarkably slow and immobile. His first touch was really poor although he was decent in the air. He never looked like he would score a bucketload of goals and, like Cresswell, seemed lacking in fitness and tired very easily.
Porter lost his place when Evans came in and though he became a bit-part player for the run in, he still started 34 games in various competitions. After scoring at Orient in October he only scored one more league goal all season. With all the injuries and other circumstances he ended up being our salvation in the play-offs against Stevenage, doing well at Broadhall Way and giving his best performance as a Blade in the second leg; working tirelessly and scoring the winner. It was a surprise that he did not start at Wembley, and it was too late when he was brought on.
Hopefully he can have more of an impact next season but he does not possess the key characteristics in a striker; someone who can score goals and worry defenders either through pace, movement or power. He may be best used as a back up for when we want to go long, as he can win headers more than any of our other options.
Bogdanovic was signed from Barnsley, where he scored a fair few goals, and was regarded as a decent signing even if many suggested his signing was due to the Maltese connection. He did not cement a place in his first season and despite clear ability, vision and touch, he lacked desire and at times seemed too lackadaisical. His main skill was his ability to con . . . sorry, win penalties by falling theatrically in the box.
He began last season on the bench but when he did come on in the first few games he gave the ball away and continued to look disinterested. It looked like we were saddled with him, but on the eve of the August deadline, Ian Holloway saw something he liked and signed him for a nominal fee.
Hoskins had been prolific in the lower leagues that had led to an ultimately unsuccessful spell with Watford. After getting back up the divisions with Bristol Rovers, he struggled to hold down a regular spot at Brighton and was let out on loan at the end of January. On the face of it, it seemed a good signing. He scored on his debut, against Wycombe, and looked really sharp, but after this he was mostly on the bench, as we opted to continue with Evans and Cresswell.
He was played after we had a poor run (Oldham/Walsall) but began in a wide position at Brentford and Colchester. He was poor at Brentford but scored at Colchester. After this he was back on the bench for the next few games before picking up an injury. He did not return for selection until MK Dons away and, with our lack of options up front, he started but did not seem fit and picked up another injury and was never seen again.
He was anticipated as being a good back-up for Evans but when he did play, he did not convince and his involvement was limited. He seemed quite quick but got pushed off the ball easily and, overall, did not quite do enough in an albeit stop-start spell.
When Beattie was rumoured to be coming back, most fans were genuinely excited. He had been superb in his first spell and, despite barely playing a game for two seasons at Blackpool and Rangers, he surely would make an impact in League One? He was way off full fitness and thus spent a lengthy period on trial and then signed a short-term deal before it was converted into a longer spell that would last until the end of the season.
He never seemed to get properly match fit the whole time and, oddly, was not given reserve or practice games to get fit. He always seemed to make just cameo appearances, but with us scoring goals and doing well, it was difficult to make a case for him starting, and when he did he was poor (Scunthorpe at home). Perhaps he should have been given more time.
His desire to do well spilled over into stupidity when he decided to grab a Charlton player by the throat in a melee and rightly was sent off, meaning he was out for a further three games.
He never really made any kind of impact in the limited time and when we needed him to come to the fore at the end of the season he let us down badly. When presented with a golden chance at MK Dons to get us a point he somehow missed from a yard and, though he made an impact coming on against Stevenage, winning a key header, he then stupidly got sent off at Exeter when given another chance to start. The tackle was wild, totally unnecessary and could have cost us promotion if Wednesday had failed to win. He certainly cost us his services for the play-offs.
Clarke came in the loan deal with Matt Phillips, and was the unheralded of the two. He had began his career as a promising young player at Ipswich but numerous loan spells followed before he eventually ended up at Blackpool. He picked up a bad injury ruling him out of the whole of their Premier League campaign and struggled to get into the first team when he returned.
He began at the Lane on the bench but soon got in the side and was impressive with his movement, clever play and ability to back and pick up the ball and create from the ‘hole’. He scored against Exeter but made quite a few other goals and was very impressive in the home game against MK Dons. He was a thinking player and seemed quicker than many others. He only played six games before Blackpool recalled him and Phillips. Whereas Phillips went on to have a major impact, Clarke only made a few substitute appearances and, with him being out of contract at the end of the season, it seemed he would move on.
So it proved and, whilst United were said to be interested, we ended up with Hoskins instead and Clarke signed for Crawley, where he was expected to tear up League Two, something that did not happen despite Crawley eventually going up. He will, of course, be back playing at the Lane next season, though in an opposition shirt. He is a clever little footballer who clearly lacks consistency or would be playing much higher up.
Slew had broken into the first team at the end of the previous season and scored a few goals, including a cracker to beat Bristol City. He had impressed with his pace and enthusiasm although he seemed to lack the physicality and toughness against bruising centre-backs.
His agent was stupidly pushing him to be moved and with only a year left of his deal, United were put in a difficult situation. Slew clearly would be better staying and continuing to progress at the Lane where he would see games and be able to develop but his agent wanted to cash in. it was a surprise when he signed a new deal on the eve of the season but after beginning on the bench, the rumours never went away. He scored against Brentford but was not a starter most of the time and, presumably swayed by his agent, he seemed to think he should be playing every week.
His agent finally got his pieces of silver with Slew’s last-minute August move to Blackburn for a fee said to rise to £2m. United did well to get the money they did for someone who had barely played first-team football, and no blame can be attached to the club when the agent was clearly not going to stop till he got his client and himself the financial package they wanted.
The move was clearly ill-advised for Slew and, as expected, he never threatened the first team other than a couple of cameo appearances from the bench. He spent some time playing academy and reserve football, and eventually ended up back where he started, on a League One bench, after he moved to Stevenage. His impact was minimal, he did not score and got sent off for violent conduct in one game. He mysteriously disappeared at the end of the season and did not feature in any of the three games against us.
It is unclear what the future holds for him, as he now goes back to Blackburn. Maybe he might get more of a chance in the Championship, but he will probably go back on loan to a League One or Two club.
O’Halloran was something of an unknown quantity when he signed. He was reckoned to be fast and could play wide or up front. He came on against Chesterfield and showed his raw pace but blazed a good chance over. He made a few more substitute appearances but seemed quite selfish and panicked when in front of goal. He missed a good chance at Hartlepool and then was restricted to substitute appearances until he was given a start in the crucial game at Stevenage. He had a bit of a nightmare, missing two very good chances and delaying his shot on a few others.
He looked miles off being a professional footballer even in League One. However, despite his less than successful spell I still would have liked to have seen him given a longer spell at Wembley and been put alongside Porter against a slow Huddersfield defence. He took a cool penalty but he won’t be remembered for very long.
Philliskirk came on loan at the end of the relegation season and had a few substitute appearances; it was suggested that he would make more of an impact in League One but it never happened. He had a few substitute and FL trophy appearances and scored a few goals at reserve level but he never pushed on. With all the striking issues at the Lane, that he was not given a chance told its own story. He had a spell on loan at Oxford but did not really stand out there, which is a concern. It was an odd move to give him another year, as he seems no nearer breaking through than when he came. It is a big year for him if he wants to have a career in professional football.
Richard Cresswell - 1 year (2013)
Chris Porter - Out of contract / offer made
Daniel Philliskirk - 1 year (2013)
With so many players gone, we are left with the above trio, which is hardly inspiring. We started with Porter and Cresswell last year but they are not the sort of players who are going to fire us to promotion. They lack pace, mobility, goals and will not worry defences.
We need to bring in two new strikers – an area that Wilson has acknowledged – with pace and power being the qualities required. If we can do that and use Cresswell and Porter as options, we would have four decent options. Next season we will see how much we miss Evans, as he scored a third of our goals and made many more.