“Watch a man in times of adversity,” so the saying goes “To discover what type of man he really is.”
Sheffield United manager Nigel Adkins has discovered plenty about his players during a punishing schedule which has seen them travel over 600 miles and contest three away fixtures, including one at Old Trafford, in the space of just seven days.
“The big thing we can take from this week is the fight,” he told The Star last night. “The determination, the spirit and the grit of the team. These lads have put a real shift in. Both mentally and physically. So all the credit, all the plaudits, must go to them.”
United will enjoy their first outing at Bramall Lane since January 2 when Swindon Town visit South Yorkshire this weekend. Although he can not guarantee a positive result, Adkins is confident they will produce another whole-hearted performance after demonstrating “honesty”, “application” and “endeavour” against Manchester United, Wigan Athletic and most recently Colchester where David Edgar’s 91st minute winner moved them to within a point of sixth-placed Peterborough. United’s victory at the Weston Homes Community Stadium came four days after Adkins’ team had dragged itself back from 3-0 down to secure a draw with Gary Caldwell’s side; an achievement, coaching staff insisted afterwards, made even more impressive following events 72 hours earlier.
“The lads put so much in during that (FA Cup) tie (against Manchester United),” Adkins continued. “That was shown by the fact they held a great Premier League club, playing at full-strength, until the closing moments. Sometimes, things don’t go your way but you’ve got to drag yourself through if you want to survive and that’s what they’ve done at Wigan and now Colchester. I can’t give them enough credit for that, I really can’t. But now we’ve got to get ready to get out there and do it all over again.”
Attitude alone, however, will only take United so far in a race which sees them trail the automatic promotion positions by 12 points with 20 matches remaining. Tactical acumen must be demonstrated too. Adkins has taken steps to address a situation which sees his team prepare for Swindon’s visit boasting the division’s fourth best attack but ninth worst defence. Adkins believes better control and game management, not wholesale personnel changes, could provide the solution to this intractable problem.
“We’ve been caught out on many occasions when we’ve been spread out all over the place going forward,” Adkins said. “We want the wide lads in the middle to play narrow when they can and support the strikers.
“Take Colchester when, credit to the opposition, they came back and we had to change the shape. That’s why we brought Jose (Baxter) on, just to link the play a little but more. Matty (Done) was having to drop deeper and deeper because they went with one up top. He had to try and combat that. Jose is good at threading those balls through and he did that to Billy (Sharp).”
“Everything boils down to the players though,” Adkins added. “Yes, we had to make changes with regards to how we were going about things but they are the ones who have gone out there and done it. They’ve shown grit, character and resilience. And you’ll do nothing without that.”