Opposition View: Hal The Blade
Luton make their first trip to Bramall Lane since November 2005 with both sides having outside aspirations of the playoffs. Hal The Blade, co-host of Sheff United Way, gives his thoughts on the Blades' season so far...
Tell us a bit about you and your Blades supporting background…
Not the obvious, I was born in Dundee, Scotland, moved to Hampshire, then York, then Stoke-on-Trent, then Catterick and now I live in leafy Buckinghamshire, to cut a long story short let’s just say my parents are Blades (even though my Dad grew up abroad).
After a tough start to the season, it seems like you’re making a charge for the Championship top 6. How do you feel the season’s gone so far?
It’s been hugely disappointing, not what many expected. The squad didn’t really have the overhaul it perhaps needed and here we are, mid-table and only showing fleeting glimpses of a side that can mount a playoff charge, we started so badly we are now miles off the chasing pack for automatic promotion. That’s not the plan, the board would have hoped for an instant return, for obvious financial reasons and I do worry about the long term if we don’t get back to the top flight soon.
The sacking of Slavisa Jokanovic, and the subsequent appointment of Paul Heckingbottom, raised eyebrows back in November, but it seems like Heckingbottom has had a good start as Blades' boss. What’s the verdict amongst the United fanbase on PH?
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I wanted Heckingbottom to continue in his role at the end of last season. He’s a good man, knows the club inside and out and I think he can be the appointment to implement the boards' new strategy of blooding the youth rather than splashing the cash.
Slavisa Jokanovic looked to change the formation from our tried and tested 5-3-2 to a tactic that implemented wingers, we only have one recognised winger at the club in Oli Burke and Slavisa rarely played him, it was a puzzle for us fans to see. The former manager tried to bring in wingers in the transfer market, leaving it until VERY late, and ultimately for a variety of bizarre reasons (including a Barcelona player not having a printer in his home) those targets fell through.
Much of the Premier League squad remain at Bramall Lane, with a few nice additions from the summer. Who would you say has been your “One To Watch” so far this season?
Our one to watch is midfielder Morgan Gibbs-White, on loan from Premier League side Wolves, he’s injured as I type this and it has really been noticeable, he just makes United tick, he’s a fabulous talent and I predict a big future, maybe even international honours one day?
It was a stalemate at Kenilworth Road back in August between the Hatters and the Blades, what have you made of how Luton have done so far this season?
I have a lot of time for Luton Town football club, my parents next-door neighbour has been Kingsley Black for many years and Kings is a family friend, he even came to my wedding! He’s been keeping me up to date with Luton Town for years and I’ve sort of taken them on as a second club. I have a little bet on with my nephew that Luton will make the playoffs this season. I think the recruitment has been spot on and done the right way. It’s something I’d like to see United do! Proper club, run the right way with good people in charge and an exciting future ahead. I predict only good things to come for the Hatters. I consider Jay Socik a friend and he’s head of recruitment analysis at Luton, doing a wonderful job. I was also chatting only yesterday with Richard from club shirt sponsor ‘Star Platforms’ and he was telling me all about the recruitment side of the club and how well the additions in the summer have adapted to Nathan Jones' style. It’s all good news coming out of Kenilworth.
Time for some predictions - who do you think (i) will get automatic promotion, (ii) make the playoffs, and (iii) get relegated?
I’m notoriously bad at predictions on our YouTube channel the ‘Sheff United Way’, certainly when it comes to score predictions but perhaps I can have a bash at longer-term predictions…I would like to see the Blades put a run together and sneak into the playoffs probably to face Middlesbrough in the playoff final! Imagine that!?! Not that I can realistically see it but one can dream!
As much as I’d rather see Blackburn pip the money boys I do expect Fulham and Bournemouth to last the pace and go up automatically. Going down is interesting, there are some bad teams in this incredibly poor Championship, the weakest for years but I’ll say Derby, Barnsley and I actually think Reading, they’ve got a lot of issues off the pitch and it could really catch up with them.
Finally, give us your score prediction for Saturday’s game…
0-0, another awful game. I didn’t enjoy the match I went to at Luton and I expect another poor spectacle at Bramall Lane, like I say I’m awful at score predictions so lump on a goal-scoring thriller now!
With thanks to Hal The Blade (@HalTheBlade). For more from Sheff Utd Way, find them at @SheffUnitedWay (Twitter) or sheffunitedway (Instagram).