This weekend’s FA Cup tie against Worcester City has, it is fair to say, suddenly assumed even greater significance.
Not that Nigel Adkins has ever been blasé about reaching at least the next stage of the competition or the threat Sheffield United’s first round opponents pose. But, following defeats to Millwall and most recently Crewe Alexandra, his team desperately needs to deliver a performance as well as a positive result.
The match, against a side 84 positions below them on the footballing pyramid, is vitally important for certain individual players too as coaching staff, aware of the need to balance constructing a promotion winning squad with the demands of Salary Cost Management Protocol, prepare to make changes during the January transfer window. Labouring through the contest is unlikely to convince Adkins that those selected, especially if they are on the periphery of his plans, are worthy of places in United’s first-choice eleven. Equally, with some established names coming under intense scrutiny following last weekend’s miserable result at Gresty Road, strong displays could be rewarded with a starting role when they return to League One action in eight days time.
One of Adkins’ greatest challenges, other than reaching the Championship of course, is ensuring folk do not watch this United team through the prism of past failures, near misses and previous regimes. Then, finding a way of disguising its weaknesses and accentuating its strengths. The options at his disposal are not, as the League One table illustrates, without ability. Yes, there is always room for more. But Adkins can point to plenty of talented players within his squad while others have either the potential or the ability to do better that at present.
What he could do with more of is leadership. Or, to be exact, on the pitch leadership which comes in many different shapes and forms. Rarely, though, from the snarling, chest-pumping sorts who enjoy being labelled as ‘passionate’ by media and supporters but are actually more interested in posturing than helping out their fellow professionals dragging them through tough periods in games.
Yes, United’s last two results have been poor. But, contrary to how it has been painted since, their work during those contests was not dire. What it did lack, as the action unfolded however, was a drive and direction. More personality and conviction is required.