The match Sheffield United simply have to win

Despair: On-loan Sam Vokes sums up the mood in the United camp.
Despair: On-loan Sam Vokes sums up the mood in the United camp.
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HAVING admitted that saving Sheffield United from relegation would represent the greatest achievement of his career, Micky Adams, the South Yorkshire club’s manager, makes the long journey to Portsmouth this weekend knowing that only a win will ensure it remains a realistic objective.

United are six points adrift of safety and 23rd in the Championship table, and events in Hampshire are not going to decide United’s fate.

But the mathematical implications of another setback, not to mention to psychological damage it could inflict on an already demoralised squad, are certain to be huge.

“Avoiding the drop should be the only motivation the players need,” Adams, writing in United’s match programme said.

“I certainly don’t want a relegation on my CV, especially here.”

Despite the circumstances and the improved form of the home side, Fratton Park will feel like safe haven for Adams and his players.

Saturday’s defeat by Derby - United’s third in a row - prompted howls of derision from the Bramall Lane crowd, with Theo Robinson, who scored the only goal of an otherwise one-sided game, revealing afterwards that he told his teammates to exploit the lane fans’ growing impatience.

“I came here two weeks ago with Millwall,” said the on-loan striker. “They are aggressive against their own team as well as the opposition.”

Travelling supporters are just as passionate but, by and large, tend to be a more forgiving bunch.

Nevertheless, United’s chief executive Trevor Birch told The Star yesterday that he sympathises with those who chose to vent their spleen while Kevin McCabe, the plc chairman, admitted at its recent AGM that mistakes had been made in the transfer market.

Making the right acquisitions, rather than a lack of ambition on the board of directors’ part, have contributed to United’s current plight.

Despite outlining plans to reduce expenditure given the challenging economic climate, they have sanctioned the arrival of seven new players since Adams’ appointment in December.

His argument that injuries and suspensions are hampering efforts to establish a settled starting 11 are not without merit.

But, given that Adams is the fourth occupant of the manager’s office at Bramall Lane this season, upheaval is inevitable.

“We’re doing everything we can to give Micky as much support as possible,” said Birch.

Birch is one of the game’s most respected administrators and, although his words will inevitably be greeted with cynicism in some quarters, United’s hierarchy should be commended for acknowledging fans’ concerns.

Questions remain, however, about the wisdom of lavishing huge sums on players who made little contribution during the aftermath of United’s relegation from the Premier League and other aspects of their recruitment policy.