Leicester loanee Dean Hammond eyeing up another fairtyale finish with Sheffield United
As a footballer still on the books of Premier League title favourites Leicester City, Dean Hammond knows all too well that football fairytales can happen occasionally.
It will arguably take a seismic shift in fortunes even bigger than that experienced at the King Power Stadium to get Sheffield United, Hammond’s current side, into the League One play-offs.
But the 33-year-old isn’t prepared to give up just yet.
“We’ve got seven games left to play, we have to play them, so why should we concede defeat?” the Leicester loanee said.
“We’ve got to win the games, of course, but then you never know what might happen in football. Stranger things have happened.
“What I do know is that we will stick together here, the players and the staff. But we know we need one hell of a run, of winning consistently.
“But our last two games at home have seen us score lots of goals, so we’ll be looking to do that again this weekend.”
Hammond’s never-say-die attitude - which is also endorsed heavily by his manager, Nigel Adkins - is admirable but, as United haven’t won back-to-back games since December, equally ambitious.
Adkins’ side, who slipped to 13th following their 3-1 defeat at Southend United on Wednesday, are nine points behind sixth-placed Bradford, with 21 to play for.
They will attempt to make up some of that ground against third-placed Walsall at Bramall Lane tomorrow and, with play-off hopefuls Barnsley, Gillingham and Coventry still to play, Hammond added: “Walsall will be a good test for us.
“They are high in the league, of course, and are a good side but let’s see if we can beat them.
“We’ve got to go and win seven games. We fancy that we can win every game.
“But instead of talking about it, we’ve got to go out there and do it. We have to look at the last one, take the positives and win on Saturday. That’s it.
“The last one has gone now. We didn’t deserve to lose but we’ve got to move on and win on Saturday.”
Hammond headed home United’s equaliser at Roots Hall, cancelling out Tyrone Barnett’s controversial opener; the visitors, and Hammond in particular, thought Barnett had kicked the ball out of George Long’s hands.
David Worrall’s fine left-footed finish put Phil Brown’s men ahead, and the impressive Jack Payne put the gloss on the victory with an adept finish in the game’s dying moments.
“It was an even game and a game of chances,” Hammond said.
“We’ve come out on the end of a 3-1 defeat but it wasn’t a 3-1, no way. It was a really unfortunate loss but you have to move on to the next game.
“We will have to take the positives; for one, Billy Sharp and Che Adams link up well. They enjoy playing alongside each other... you can see that.
“It’s difficult to say when you lose but there were some really good performances out there.”
Walsall travel to South Yorkshire unbeaten in seven outings against Hammond’s current employers - and former Blade Andy Taylor is keen for the run to continue.
“Why have we done so well against them? That’s the million dollar question,” Taylor, who made just 45 appearances for United after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and spending 15 months on the sidelines, said.
“If we knew the answer we would just do the same things and it would be nice and easy.
“I remember playing for Sheffield United against Walsall and it was always a game that we knew would be difficult.
“There are certain games you just know are going to be tough and Walsall was always one of them – an underestimated League One team. “Now, we are up there, teams are going to respect us.
“We are going to go there full of confidence, on the back of three wins, with a great away record to keep intact and we are going to fight for our lives for the points to put more pressure on the teams above.”
Taylor joined United, then of the Championship, in 2009 and watched from the sidelines as they slipped into League One. His last touch in a United shirt saw a penalty crash against the post in United’s play-off final defeat, on spot-kicks, to Huddersfield at Wembley in 2012.
“Every season, you look at them and think it’s too big a club to be in League One,” Taylor continued.
“But it was far too big a club to get relegated – and it happened. I was there and you’d look around at the players in the changing room and think ‘we can’t get relegated’ but it happened.
“You’ve no God-given right to get out of this league – it’s a tough league to get out of, as they have found out. And this year you would say they are underachieving for a club their size.
“But they have got seven games to make the play-offs, so it’s going to be a tough game.”