Nigel Adkins, the Sheffield United manager, is adamant his team remain in the race for Championship football next season despite recording only one victory since the turn of the year.
United, whose match against Bury on Saturday was postponed due to the Lancastrians’ involvement in the FA Cup, were criticised after failing to beat relegation-threatened Blackpool last week.
But Adkins, despite acknowledging the result was a disappointment, told The Star there were mitigating factors to consider before insisting that promotion is still a realistic possibility.
“We’d played six games in 24 days or so there,” he said. “That’s probably showed at times, especially in the conditions we encountered. I’m not looking for us to have a big squad. I want that spirit, which we’ve got, and for people to know they have a chance of being involved. When they come in, you can see there’s a togetherness. And that needs to continue.”
United, whose visit to Gigg Lane has been rearranged for Tuesday February 16 (kick-off 7.45pm), return to League One action against Wigan Athletic this weekend. With Gary Caldwell’s side above them in the table, the outcome could exert huge influence over the battle for a top-six finish.
Adkins revealed: “We wanted to play Bury on Tuesday but it wasn’t possible. We want to keep playing. But that’s not happened, unfortunately.
“What we do now have is an opportunity to recover the players again and look forward to the last 18 games.
“We always have to take the positives. Yes, we wanted three points (at Blackpool), created chances, should have had a penalty and we kept a clean sheet. But we are looking forward to the remaining games.”
Despite taking only two points from a possible six after also being held to a draw by Swindon Town, United prepare for the meeting with Wigan unbeaten in four.
They started 2016 with a home defeat by Peterborough before coming within minutes of earning an FA Cup third-round replay against Manchester United.
Seventy-two hours after Wayne Rooney’s stoppage time penalty proved decisive at Old Trafford, Adkins players hauled themselves back from 3-0 down to snatch a share of the spoils at the DW Stadium.
Matt Done, who netted twice during that fixture, is receiving treatment for a hamstring complaint while fellow goalscorer Billy Sharp has been hampered by a foot problem. Adkins, though, expects both to declare themselves available for selection this weekend while midfielder Chris Basham is making progress in his battle to overcome a leg injury.
“It’s been a very demanding run, not only physically but psychologically too,” Adkins said. “So, yes, while we would have preferred to stay in action, we can put the break to good use.
“We can get a few of the lads who have been carrying knocks or niggles back into shape and we can refresh the others too. The players have shown great spirit and, even though we always want more, put a lot in recently. They’ve shown a tremendous attitude.”
“I would expect Matty, Billy and Bash to all be okay for the next one,” Adkins added. “That’s what the plan is at least. We still believe we can achieve something this season and that’s why it’s always important to be positive.”