WITH Sheffield United six points adrift of safety and just 11 matches of the season remaining, only the flush, foolhardy or both would bet on them competing in the Championship next season.
But Micky Adams, the South Yorkshire club’s manager, bristles at suggestions that his team’s fate is already sealed.
“I’ve always believed that you dig deep when things are going against you, either in sport or in life,” he said last night. “And, if you do that, then things can change.
“We can still do it. It’s going to be tough but it can still be done. Anything is possible.”
Speaking after Saturday’s narrow defeat by Portsmouth - which saw United’s vulnerability at set-pieces once again undermine an otherwise belligerent display - Adams insisted only “a fine line” exists between success and failure in this notoriously unforgiving division.
Nevertheless, United have so far proved unable to bridge the gap.
Performances in recent weeks have not befitted a team which entertains Nottingham Forest tonight 23rd in the table and without a victory in its last 15 games.But, as Stephen Quinn acknowledged at Fratton Park, those combative displays will continue to count for little until United master the basics required to win any football contest - converting chances and an ability to defend with due care and attention.
“Maybe we’re getting used to it (losing),” said Adams. “It becomes the norm and that’s dangerous.
“You get lots of people ringing up and offering their services. Psychologists and the like.
“I bet at the start of the season that didn’t happen but when you’re down at the bottom they tell you they can change everything. We haven’t taken up the offers.”
United have scored 14 goals and conceded 30 since beating Swansea City. In the spirit of collective responsibility - something Adams has been keen to foster during his time in charge - those operating in midfield must also share some of the blame for this damning statistic.
United deserved to have taken something from their recent outings against Crystal Palace, Derby County and most recently Steve Cotterill’s side.
For all their honest endeavour, the number of chances they create do not reflect the amount of time they spend in possession of the ball.
“If we want to take some positives then the fact that we’ve not been conceding from open play is one,” said Adams.
UNITED (possible): Simonsen, Nosworthy, Lowry, Collins, Lowton, Doyle, Williamson, Riise, Quinn, Cresswell, Evans (4-4-2).
FOREST (possible): Camp, Konchesky, Chambers, Morgan, Gunter, Anderson, McCleary, Cohen, Majewski, Earnshaw, Tudgay (4-4-2).
Anthony Bates: One of the most experienced names on the National List, the Staffordshire official boasts both Charity Shield and FA Cup Final appointments on his CV. The more superstitious members of Sheffield United’s squad will take heart from the fact they have not lost any of Booth’s three previous visits to Bramall Lane.