Nigel Adkins, the Sheffield United manager, has insisted he remains fully supportive of his players despite criticising their performances in recent weeks.
United are preparing for Saturday’s FA Cup tie against Worcester City under intense scrutiny after suffering back to back defeats at the hands of Millwall and Crewe Alexandra.
Adkins’ strident tone following the defeat at Gresty Road was in stark contrast to the upbeat messages he has been keen to peddle since tacking charge during the close season, prompting suggestions that coaching staff have lost patience with members of the club’s squad.
It is a charge the 50-year-old, who has nevertheless vowed to get tough in a bid to revive United’s fortunes, vehemently denies.
“Players have got to go out and perform in the arena,” Adkins said. “There’s absolutely no doubt about that.
“But is also about ‘us’ and sticking together. That hasn’t changed either. We are moving forward with the same togetherness and collective spirit.”
Despite attempting to strike a conciliatory note, Adkins’ words during the aftermath of last weekend’s match at Gresty Road, which saw United dominate for long periods only to lose 1-0, can be interpreted as a sign coaching staff will not offer some members of the squad many more chances to prove they are capable of implementing the tactics which saw him lead Scunthorpe and Southampton to promotion.
Together with assistant Andy Crosby and first team coach Dean Wilkins, Adkins wants United to pass the ball with increased tempo while cutting-out the lapse in concentration which cost them dear in Cheshire.
“I won’t dig people out,” Adkins said. “Not publicly anyway. We are all working for the same thing, we all know what we want and there’s a good work ethic here. Everyone is working very hard behind the scenes.”
United, meanwhile, have refused to estimate how long it will be before John Brayford returns from injury. The defender has not appeared at first team level since last season’s play-off semi-finals after damaging a knee ligament.
“When John comes back, we want to make sure he stays back,” Adkins said. “The idea is to give him a mini pre-season and some run-outs for the under-21’s, as we’ve done with others, to build the strength and fitness back up again. But the most important thing is that he’s making progress and moving in the right direction.”
United are holding special FA Cup stadium tour before this weekend’s match, priced £6 adults and £4 concessions. Telephone 0114 253 7200 to reserve a place.