Nigel Adkins, the Sheffield United manager, has vowed to ignore claims his team has no hope of winning promotion this season after insisting it would be a grave mistake to write-off the remainder of the campaign.
United, eighth in the League One table with 14 matches left to play, have been criticised by supporters and commentators alike since calling time on their pursuit of a top two place.
But Adkins, whose squad were immediately installed as title favourites following his appointment in June, pledged not to let the downbeat narrative surrounding recent results to permeate the dressing room.
“People will be saying all sorts of things but you’ve got to believe it’s going to happen,” he said. “I understand the frustrations of the supporters because this is a big football club.
“But I will shoulder the responsibility of keeping everyone positive and united together. Because, if we are, then we give ourselves an opportunity.
“If we aren’t then it’s quite simple. We don’t.”
Although Adkins’ incessantly positive approach has grated with many of the club’s followers of late, there were indications before last weekend’s victory over Port Vale that it is helping to create a siege mentality behind the scenes with one senior professional claiming “we don’t listen” to folk “who reckon we should all pack up and go home right now.”
While coaching staff dismiss talk of a schism between those on the pitch and in the stands, Adkins will undoubtedly try and use any sense of grievance as a motivational tool ahead of Saturday’s visit to Rochdale.
United’s next opponents are 16th after beating Fleetwood Town on Tuesday evening and, according to their manager Keith Hill, also struggling for consistency.
“I can’t explain why we go from one extreme to another within the course of a game, it’s happening game after game,” he said. “We were exceptional in the first 25 minutes and created good opportunities, but to start making silly decisions annoys me because we are better than that.
“In the second half we tried to keep too much possession in negative areas of the pitch.”
United, who beat Rochdale 3-2 at Bramall Lane earlier this term, are waiting to discover whether Neill Collins will recover from injury before finalising their tactics and team selection for the match.
The centre-half hurt his leg after colliding with a goal post during the meeting with Doncaster Rovers earlier this month but has been undergoing treatment at the Steelphalt Academy after missing the fixture against Vale.