Collins throws down cup gauntlet

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NEILL Collins has challenged his Sheffield United teammates to bounce back in style when they host Birmingham City in the FA Cup on Saturday.

The fourth round tie sees Danny Wilson’s side return to action for the first time since losing their top-of-the-table clash at Charlton Athletic last weekend.

United relinquished their grip on the automatic promotion places after suffering a rare defeat at the hands of the League One leaders.

But Collins said: “When we’ve had a set-back in the past we’ve always responded in a positive way.

“That shows the strength of character and togetherness there is in this squad.

“There’s a really good atmosphere behind the scenes and I think people can see that out there on the pitch.”

United’s team spirit was ravaged by poor results and an influx of loan signings en route to relegation from the Championship last season.

But the damage has been repaired by a consistent selection policy and manager Wilson’s decision to encourage players to express themselves despite the high-stakes.

Goalkeeper Steve Simonsen has also praised United’s new-found camaraderie, drawing comparisons between attitudes at Shirecliffe and those which helped Stoke City reach the top-flight in 2008. Simonsen, who spent six years at the Britannia Stadium before moving to United in 2010, said: “Every club is different but there are certainly similarities.

“If someone gets into trouble on the pitch then the rest of the lads are ready to step in and help them get out of a hole.

“They’re ready to cover their teammates’ backs and watch out for them.

“It was the same at Stoke and you need that spirit.”