The incessant debate about their promotion credentials will continue but, after they dragged themselves back from the brink, Sheffield United’s character can not be questioned.
Two goals down after half an hour and with a mutinous atmosphere developing inside Bramall Lane, Nigel Adkins’ team seemed destined for the type of result which would have triggered yet another week of bitter recrimination.
Instead, with Jose Baxter and Neill Collins quickly restoring parity, post-match conversation was dominated by questions about how Southend survived a second-half onslaught which would have torn less resilient teams apart.
The answer, Collins insisted, was a mixture of durability and, from United’s perspective, rank bad luck after they saw three late attempts, including one from the impressive Baxter, cannon back off the post.
“I think there have been times this season when we’ve come away with a draw or a defeat and felt we should have won whereby, in reality, it was probably 50/50,” the centre-half admitted.
“Out there, though, anyone watching, particularly after the break, wouldn’t know how we didn’t get the victory. The second half was possibly as well as we’ve played. We penned them in, hit the post and their goalkeeper made saves. Sometimes, you’ve just got to suck it up and accept that it hasn’t gone your way.”
United, as Collins and Adkins acknowledged, were far from perfect. Matters, including the fact they have now conceded the first goal in five out their last 10 outings, need to be addressed. But at a club where the mood can lurch from delight to despair on a day by day basis, Collins made a play for the middle ground.
“I never begrudge anyone an opinion,” he said. “Fans can easily get negative and rightly so because it was a game we wanted to win. But, as players, staff and fans, we’ve got to stay positive because we’ve got to go again.
“At the moment, it’s not quite happening for us. But if we play like we did in the second half going forward then, to be honest, I don’t think too many teams are going to be able to live with it.
“Yes, we wanted to win, but the positive slant is that we got a point from a difficult position and that might be the point that, come the end, gets us over the line.”
“Sometimes, everything gets over-analysed,” he continued. “When you are winning, people say you’ve got leaders, you’ve got this and you’ve got that.
“Then, when you are losing, they’re saying there are no leaders, you don’t have this and you don’t have that, whereas, in reality, it’s a fine balance. We’ve got to keep a steady head, know what we’re good at, know what we’ve got to improve and keep working hard.”
United, who remain eighth in the table, obliged on both counts after Ryan Leonard and Jack Payne had turned the mood inside the stadium bleaker than the weather.
Baxter prodded home the first of two inventive set-piece moves when Southend - whose coach, Graham Coughlan, revealed later revealed were “praying for the final whistle” - failed to clear Paul Coutts’ low corner.
Then, Collins marked his 200th appearance for the club by converting from another centre.
Although the visitors, now 11th, saw David Worrall miss a good chance towards the end of the second period, they spent the rest of the contest firmly on the back foot with Baxter, Chris Basham and Billy Sharp, who had earlier been thwarted by Daniel Bentley, all hitting the woodwork.
“In football, you are always going to get testing times,” Collins said. “But one thing we’ve always done this season is come back well. I’ve been in teams before where, if you went 2-0 down, you knew you were going to struggle, But I just don’t feel like that here. We always feel we can score.”
United, with George Long preferred to Mark Howard in goal, had earlier fallen behind when the unmarked Leonard scored for the third time in four outings with a long-distance shot which flew in via the upright before Payne threaded an angled drive past the Blades youngster after being released by Ben Coker’s pass.
Che Adams was responsible for winning the corner which led to Collins’ equaliser when his shot ricocheted off Adam Thompson and flew over the crossbar.
Dean Hammond suffered the same fate before instigating the move which ended with Sharp’s close-range drive being smothered.
“With regards to going two behind, that’s something we need to look at,” Collins said. “But we’ve still done more than enough to win. We want to give ourselves a platform because, with our pace, if we can bring the opposition on, then they’ll get punished.
“Fair play to Southend because they didn’t come here to just be defensive. But that platform, that base, is really important for us because of the qualities that we’ve got.”
Sheffield United: Long 6, Freeman 6, Harris 6, Basham 6, Coutts 8 (J Wallace 84), Sharp 6, Baxter 7, Collins 6, Campbell-Ryce 7, Adams 7, Hammond 6. Not used: Howard, Done, Scougall, Sammon, McEveley, McGahey.
Southend United: Bentley 6, White 6, Coker 6, Thompson 7, Worrall 6, Mooney 6 (Pigott 64), Payne 7 (Timlin 75), Atkinson 6, Hurst 6 (Weston 69), Leonard 7, Barrett 7. Not used: Prosser, Bolger, Smith, O’Neill.
Referee: Scott Duncan (Tyne and Wear).