Gary Speed is favourite for Sheffield United hot seat

I have a say

Posted Monday, August 16, 2010 by

• Assistant coach in frame after Kevin Blackwell's sacking
• Blades fans stay away in protest at route-one tactics

Gary Speed is favourite for Sheffield United hot seat
Gary Speed finished his playing career at Sheffield United before joining the coaching team.

"I had a laugh with Blacky before the game," the Queen's Park Rangers manager Neil Warnock said after an emphatic 3-0 victory over Kevin Blackwell's Sheffield United. "I said 'I've signed eight players, Kevin, for two-thirds of what Ched Evans [last summer's £3m striker] cost'." Warnock meant to highlight his own shrewdness in the transfer market, but his comments took on a different hue when it emerged that Warnock's former assistant had been relieved of his duties.

The United chief executive, Trevor Birch, said yesterday: "We remain passionate and committed to achieving promotion and believe the change of management will assist in that quest." But he added: "The board will not rush the next move." The assistant coach Gary Speed is the bookies' favourite at 4-6, although Doncaster's Sean O'Driscoll is thought to top the fans' wanted list. Tony Mowbray, Scunthorpe's Nigel Adkins, Rochdale's Keith Hill and Oxford United's Chris Wilder also figure.

The swiftness with which the club responded to shouts of "Blackwell out" suggests that they were already reconciled to the decision, this defeat only releasing the blade. Board members have been negotiating with a Malaysian investor who was reported to be in the crowd on Saturday; the boos that rippled around Bramall Lane will not have shown United at their most appetising.

The groans spoke of United's bluntness against a team whose attacks cut like a scalpel – goals from the excellent trio of Hogan Ephraim, Jamie Mackie and Adel Taarabt sealing the win inside 23 minutes. But there had been mutterings of discontent through much of Blackwell's tenure – he considered resigning after defeat to Burnley in the 2009 play-off final, saying: "To pick clubs up from the floor after this is difficult."

The task was especially difficult once the £12m-a-year Premier League parachute payments stopped last summer. Top players and high wage earners such as James Beattie had to be sold, and well-funded interest from Tottenham Hotspur inevitably cost Blackwell the services of exciting youngsters Kyle Naughton and Kyle Walker.

Fans afforded the manager little sympathy, however. The quality of new arrivals was scrutinised – Evans, his most expensive signing, scored just four goals in 2009-10 – but the cause of most anger was the increasingly route-one football; pragmatic perhaps, but rarely entertaining as United faltered to eighth. Saturday's crowd was 2,500 down on last season's average, amid talk that some supporters would not renew their season tickets until Blackwell was ousted.

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