MICKY Adams had asked Sheffield United to issue a statement of intent after sliding into the relegation zone before travelling to Portman Road.
So he could scarcely conceal his dismay after watching them capitulate in such alarming fashion against Ipswich Town.
Goals from Damien Delaney, David Norris and a wonderful solo effort from youngster Connor Wickham stretched the visitors’ barren run to three games while the sight of both Rob Kozluk and Lee Williamson receiving their marching orders during the closing stages only fuelled suspicions that, unless results improve dramatically over the coming weeks, United, who just five years ago had aspirations of qualifying for Europe, are instead destined for League One.
Adams, whose side are now four points adrift of safety, confronted the issue head on during a brutally frank post-match inquest.
“Can it get much worse? I hope not,” he said. “But you’ve got to be fearful that it could.
“Everyone at this club has got to take collective responsibility for the situation we are in. The players, the staff, previous managers and myself, even though I’ve only been here for less than two months. There’s nothing to be gained from hiding that fact.”
Adams inherited a threadbare squad patched up with loan signings when he recently became United’s fourth manager of the season. Given the South Yorkshire club’s perilous predicament, losing two of its most senior members to suspensions could have serious ramifications.
Substitute Kozluk had only been on the pitch for 29 minutes when he saw red for reacting angrily to an over-zealous tackle from Ipswich’s Lee Martin. Williamson, who had already been cautioned earlier in the match, collected his second booking for arguing the decision with referee Dave Phillips.
Even debutant Neill Collins, whose no-frills display at the heart of defence was perhaps the only positive United will discover when they sift through the wreckage of defeat, admitted: “Senior players need to do better.”
“The two sendings-off were ridiculous,” Adams said. “I’m not complaining. I can’t condone what either did.”
Adams had predicted this would-be a no-holds-barred contest between two teams desperate to shed their tag as great under-achievers and, until Delaney broke the deadlock, that is what it threatened to be.
However, reports that Jimmy Bullard’s arrival in Suffolk - Ipswich owner Marcus Evans content to subsidise the Hull midfielder’s contract to the tune of £20,000 a week - would cause a split in the home side’s dressing room proved wide of the mark as his accurate delivery helped them overcome United’s previously obdurate resistance.
Delaney headed home Bullard’s free-kick from close range before Norris doubled Ipswich’s advantage.
Tamas Priskin hit the post after beating Steve Simonsen to a loose ball.
While the United goalkeepeer produced a fine save to foil Grant Leadbitter from the penalty spot - Shane Lowry adjudged to have impeded Hungarian Priskin - he was powerless to prevent Wickham from sliding home after a superb piece of individual skill which saw the teenager seize possession deep inside his own half and leave two markers trailing in his wake before applying the coup de grace with an elegant drop of the shoulder.
United supporters who had paid over £30 to watch their team in action against Paul Jewell’s side - nearly twice as much as fans paid at Chelsea v Liverpool yesterday - saw several promising positions go to waste as an attack Adams later conceded is in desperate need of reinforcements was wracked by fragile confidence.
Daniel Bogdanovic put in an industrious shift but United failed to trouble Simonsen’s counterpart, Marton Fulop.
“We are getting there,” Ipswich manager Jewell said. “There are positive signs and green shoots of recovery.
“If Connor’s goal had been scored by Lionel Messi then we’d be watching it on television from now until the end of the year.”
Jewell must be breathing a sigh of relief that the transfer window has now closed. For Adams, meanwhile, it can not re-open fast enough.
We got what we deserved. Nothing. I don’t think keeping 11 players on the pitch would have made any difference. We were losing 3-0 at the time. We kept picking the wrong pass and we’ve not really tested their goalkeeper at all.