Nigel Adkins has shrugged-off Barnsley head coach Paul Heckingbottom’s decision to acknowledge Sheffield United’s combative approach before this weekend’s meeting at Bramall Lane, dismissing the move as part and parcel of the psychological warfare which surrounds derby fixtures.
Responding to a question about United’s “physicality” during the visitors’ pre-match press conference, Heckingbottom admitted “We know what they’re about” ahead of a match set to exert huge influence over the battle for a League One play-off place.
But, speaking at the Steelphalt Academy this afternoon, Adkins refused to be drawn into a war of words, saying: “Obviously, he’s trying to trigger a few things in the referee’s mind. They are good at set-pieces too but we have an assertiveness about ourselves and that’s good. I’m enjoying it.
“There’s nothing wrong with being assertive. You need to be but in a controlled manner. We’re always preaching that you need 11 players on the pitch. You saw the other night (against Barnsley) that a Peterborough player got sent-off for retaliation. I sure they’ll be unhappy about it but you can’t afford to get dragged in these days. With the new rules, you can’t surround a ref. If you are kicked, you’ve just got to hope the referee deals with it.”
Adkins, who confirmed United had suffered no fresh injuries during Tuesday’s victory over Shrewsbury Town, revealed the unusual method coaching staff now employ to ensure the players do not collect unnecessary cautions or red cards.
“You’ve got to stay in the green,” he said. “We use a traffic light type system to signify this. Red, obviously, means danger. Amber means you’re getting there whereas green means everything is running nice and smoothly.
“If you see someone losing it a bit then you should ‘stay in the green’ and that should be the trigger for them to calm down. The All Blacks, the rugby union guys, use something similar.”
“We’ve not had to touch on it for a long time,” Adkins continued. “You need that assertiveness. That’s what is required if you want to be a Sheffield United player because the supporters demand it.”
United, in ninth, moved to within four points of the play-off positions following their win at Greenhous Meadow while Barnsley only trail them on goal difference. Heckingbottom’s team beat Peterborough in dramatic fashion two days ago when George Williams scored in added time. Chris Forrester had earlier become the eighth Peterborough player to be dismissed this season after collecting two yellow cards in the space of less than a minute; the second after clashing with Barnsley captain Conor Hourihane.
Graham Westley described Hourihane’s role in the incident as “despicable” and complained: “Their player was cautioned for feigning an injury, but then followed up by stamping on Chris for which he wasn’t punished. It was a despicable act which has no place in the game.”
Although John Brayford is still undergoing treatment for a calf muscle problem, Adkins said United have a near full-strength squad at their disposal.
“There are no injuries and we’re looking good. We’re all in good shape and everyone is putting themselves forward. Pressure makes diamonds, we’ve got to win a game of football. But we are feeling positive with how we are playing, with where we are and with the camaraderie in the camp.”