He might have been late and slightly reluctant stand-in but, fair to say, Andy Crosby struck exactly the right tone when he faced the media at the Steelphalt Academy yesterday.
Yes, Sheffield United’s assistant manager admitted, things are far from perfect at Bramall Lane. But no, Crosby said as he deputised for the absent Nigel Adkins, United’s first team squad will not be giving-up on the play-offs just yet. Despite acknowledging it would take a comeback of Lazurian proportions to qualify following Wednesday’s damaging defeat in Southend.
“There are 21 points to play for,” Crosby said. “That could take us to a competitive total but, of course, there are teams in between us and where we want to be. We’ve got to keep going until it’s mathematically impossible. “There’s no point in giving-up, packing our bags and quitting. You’ve got to keep on going right until the end.”
Nevertheless, despite his upbeat prognosis of United’s chances, Crosby did not shy away from tackling the more thorny issues when reflecting on performances this season with the region’s press. United enter today’s match against Walsall 13th in the League One table - nine points behind sixth-placed Bradford City - after 39 games.
“All eleven players, at the start of a 46 match campaign, you know not all 11 are going to play well every week,” Crosby said. “So you have to find other ways of winning. Be that with the football or without it. That’s where that mental resolve comes in. That’s what you’ve got to try and do. There are key moments in every game, pivotal moments, and we have to deal with them better. Negotiate them better.
“There have been some good performances, especially during our last three home games, when we’ve created lots of chances and scored goals. But, and we are all in this together, there needs to be a better mental resolve to get through the tough times in games. No team in the world, perhaps only one, can control the entirety of a game.”
Expanding on that theme, and accepting United’s defensive record has been hugely disappointing this term, he added: “I think, as a defender, you would naturally have that focus and instinct about keeping the ball out of the net. Strikers, obviously, are different because it’s not their main job. But there has to be a bind, a structure when we don’t have the ball. The successful teams, even if they concede one, make it so difficult for you to get two.”
Adkins, who placed himself in voluntary isolation after contracting a throat infection, recently insisted United need “a period of stability” to fulfil their potential after being unveiled as the club’s eighth permanent manager since 2007 in June.
Walsall, ranked third, have adopted a much more strategic approach and Crosby said: “We all want success as quickly as possible, that’s why we play the lottery. We know the modern way and ultimately it’s about results but you need time to build a philosophy and get a group of players together who are used to working how you want to work.”
“When you’ve got an infrastructure in place and a philosophy within a club, you can build something,” Crosby continued. “The turnover of players isn’t nine or 10 every pre-season. It’s tweaking with one or two.
“When Dean (Smith) was at Walsall, you could see the group had been together a long time. It had spent hours together on the training ground, watching videos and improving. It’s very rare that you throw a team together and it just clicks.
“Consistency has been an issue all season. The teams at the top have, obviously, been the most consistent and also together for a long period of time.”