James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: The tough choices facing Adkins

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The time for talking, grand mission statements and hyperbole is over.

Sheffield United begin their latest League One campaign against Gillingham tomorrow knowing there are points up-for-grabs and tough choices to be made.

Starting with, after Nigel Adkins unveiled Jay McEveley as their new captain during yesterday’s pre-match press conference, what roles to award two of his younger players.

McEveley, who will don the armband at Priestfield and beyond, has benefited more than most from the new manager’s decision to hand every member of the squad he inherited a clean slate. Curiously, many commentators who welcomed this departure from the previous regime’s more abrasive approach, seem unwilling to follow suit.

McEveley is not, as he has been painted in some quarters, a liability at centre-half. Far from it.

Before an admittedly unfathomable handball during January’s Capital One Cup tie with Tottenham Hotspur seemingly eroded his confidence, the 30-year-old excelled after being moved from full-back. Indeed, earlier that month, a commanding performance alongside Terry Kennedy at QPR appeared to have confirmed his candidacy for player of the year.

Football is a fickle business. Memories regrettably short. By the same measure, plenty of crowd favourites who disappeared en route to May’s memorable tussle with Swindon should also face the axe.

Adkins, following George Long’s return from a loan spell with Motherwell, must also decide who starts in goal. Mark Howard brings continuity having made 50 appearances last term. When fully fit, he acquitted himself well. Selecting Long, a former England youth international, would not be a brave step. But, given Howard’s recent admission that he “chased games” earlier in his career, could ultimately lead to a total changing of the guard.

Perhaps the most taxing dilemma facing Adkins, however, is how to utilise Che Adams. The teenager has been a revelation during United’s summer friendlies, excelling at centre-forward rather than on the wing. With Billy Sharp certain to feature and Conor Sammon arriving from Derby County, Ryan Flynn’s injury problems provide an opportunity to defer judgement.

But Adams’ future, on recent evidence at least, lies as a striker rather than marauding down the flanks.

Twitter: @JamesShield1

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