In fairness to Nigel Adkins, he always warned there would be trouble ahead, writes James Shield.
No team, not even one managed by an individual so relentlessly upbeat he could make you feel good about losing a play-off final at Wembley, can realistically be expected to finish a 46 match campaign unbeaten.
But today, after losing their last two games, Sheffield United will confront Bradford City hoping to avert what, in some quarters at least, is being painted as a potential crisis.
“You are never going to have it all your own way,” Adkins said. “We need a good camaraderie and we want to make those lads on the pitch at any given time feel 10 feet tall. To get behind them and be supportive of them. It’s another game coming up, they come thick and fast and we’re looking forward to it.”
Win, lose or draw at Valley Parade, Adkins is unlikely to be influenced by outside narrative. Speaking before last weekend’s defeat to Bury, which was quickly followed by the sight of Colchester recording their first league victory at Bramall Lane since 1979, he outlined what promotion campaigns with both Scunthorpe and Southampton has taught him.
“You’ve got to stay in the fight. Yes, ideally you want to be at the top but the biggest thing is that come January you are in there and battling. If you aren’t, it can be very difficult but, if you are, then you can look to push on from there.”
They have also taught Adkins not to wallow in self-pity after disappointing results.
“You can always take something away from a game to keep the confidence high,” he said, reflecting on United’s performances against Colchester and Bury. “One of the big things for me is that, yes we didn’t win those games, but we created probably more chances than we had all season. That’s something we want to keep on doing.”
Adkins confirmed Che Adams could return to action after recovering from a virus while Terry Kennedy could also travel having received the all-clear following an injury scare. Matt Done (collarbone) and Paul Coutts (knee) also continue to make progress but will not be considered for selection.
“Che picked it coming back from England under-20 duty,” Adkins said. “He’s not done much work because of it but he’s joined in out there and so we’ll see.”
City prepared for the contest 10 places behind United in 15th but Adkins said: “They’ll be tough. Phil Parkinson has done a cracking job, you can see that with the cup runs.
“We know they’ve got massive strengths. We’ve got to combat those but also impose ourselves on the game. Before we even kicked a ball, I highlighted there are no easy games whatsoever.
“You’ve got to work your socks off and earn the right to play. The lads have come in, we’re ready and focused. There’s a hunger about the players to do well and a collective spirit.”