There have been times this summer when Sheffield United’s pre-season campaign was threatening to become the Che Adams show.
Despite lauding the forward’s progress since his appointment eight weeks ago, manager Nigel Adkins knows it will take more than a raw but prodigiously talented teenager to ensure Bramall Lane is about to host Championship football this time next year.
So, after a feisty draw with Hull City preserved their unbeaten record, it was with great satisfaction the 50-year-old declared United’s preparations a success.
“We’re ready to go now,” Adkins, who team begins its latest bid for promotion at Gillingham in five days time, said. “In fact, we’ve been ready to go for a while.
“There always comes a point when you just want to get going. Actually get stuck into the games themselves and, to be honest, the lads have probably felt like that since the end of last month.”
Nevertheless, with City choosing to deploy internationals such as Nikica Jelavic, David Meyler and Sone Aluko, yesterday’s contest proved another worthwhile exercise with Jamie Murphy opening the scoring before Abel Hernandez equalised.
Adams for once failed to trouble the scoresheet but did press what is becoming an irresistible case for a prominent role in Adkins’ plans. His prowess in front of goal has never been in doubt but, now much stronger and savvy in terms of his decision-making, League One defences will not relish facing the former Ilkeston attacker next term.
Billy Sharp also caught the eye with a lively, industrious shift while Michael Higdon hit the woodwork late on.
“We’ve done well against a team that was in the Premier League last season and we’ve learnt a lot,” said Adkins.
Despite utlising most of the options at his disposal during games against the likes of Cheltenham, Newcastle and Macclesfield Town, some common themes to Adkins’ tactical template have quickly emerged. Neill Collins and Jay McEveley once again partnered each other at the heart of a rearguard which, on the evidence of United’s previous six outings, already appears much stronger than it did last term.
Another consistent policy is the deployment of two recognised centre-forwards in attack. With Conor Sammon granted leave of absence due to a prior engagement - the striker’s parent club Derby County were in action against Burton Albion - Adams was tasked with helping Sharp unpick City’s back four.
The youngster was still plying his trade in non-league football when these two Yorkshire rivals met in the semi-finals of the FA Cup 16 months ago. But Adams introduced himself to City’s defence after only a quarter-of-an-hour with a searing turn of pace following Collins’ pass which left Alex Bruce trailing in his wake and forced McGregor to make a smart save.
Adams, however, is not the only promising young player Adkins has inherited from his predecessor Nigel Clough. Callum McFadzean, a veteran of the 2011 FA Youth Cup final, has spent much of his career at senior level being farmed-out on loan. Adkins’ presence in the technical area has provided the full-back with a chance to press his claims for a place in United’s squad next term. Whether or McFadzean starts at Priestfield Stadium, the darting run and shot which forced McGregor into action again soon after Adam’s intervention underlined his potential.
“That’s my 34th pre-season done and dusted now,” Adkins said. “Nothing surprises you any more. We could, probably should, have scored more goals than we did, We were disappointed with the one we conceded but, other than that, thought we had a really good shape.”
The same can not be said for City whose supporters used the occasion to vent their spleen at owner Assem Allam following his recent ill-fated attempt to change the club’s name.
Aluko went down under a seemingly innocuous challenge during the opening exchanges of this intriguing rather than explosive fixture but, fortunately for Bruce’s sanity, recovered after treatment. McGregor, though, quickly plunged him back into the depths of despair by fumbling Murphy’s shot into the back of his own net moments before the interval.
“I was pleased with what we did after the break,” Bruce said. “But, let’s be honest, it couldn’t have been any worse than the first (half). You can’t ready anything into that, though, because as everybody knows I’ve not really been able to go into the market yet.”
City, as Bruce alluded, posed more questions throughout the second-half although United, as impressive as the final touch was, will have been disappointed not to have prevented Hernandez from levelling, Higdon and Greg Luer both saw efforts rebound off a post during the closing stages.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Howard (Long 46), Freeman, Collins, McEveley, McFadzean, Scougall (Woolford 60), Basham (Basham 85), Baxter (J Wallace 59), Murphy (Reed 80), Sharp (Higdon 70), Adams (McNulty 70).
HULL CITY: McGregor, Taylor (Davies 46), Dawson, Bruce (Hayden 46), Robertson (Jahraldo-Martin 70), Elmohamady (Lenihan 75), Meyler (Dixon 75), Huddlestone (Luer 46), Clucas, Aluko (Hernandez 70), Jelavic (N’Doye 46). Not used: Jakupovic.
REFEREE: Darren Deadman