We're now in most pivotal stage in Sheffield United's season

Sheffield United skipper Jay McEveley
Sheffield United skipper Jay McEveley
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Manchester United has gone. The buzz and build-up for a visit to Old Trafford, consigned to a footnote in a season that Sheffield United fans hope will be remembered for a lot more than a died-with-their-boots-on defeat to an expensively assembled bore of a team.

Now the real test comes for the Blades. This was to be the season where they waved goodbye to League One and began looking forward to a new challenge in the Championship.

Blades manager Nigel Adkins

Blades manager Nigel Adkins

It hasn't exactly gone to plan, with Nigel Adkins side currently sitting in ninth place in the table, but most results and performances in recent weeks suggest that there is a momentum building. Fourteen points off the automatic promotion places, though with two games in hand over current second-placed side Gillingham, offers a view that it may be too much to expect more than a play-off place.

But it shouldn't be ruled out.

Despite what some people believe, this squad is good enough. Granted there have been too many occasions this campaign where the players' performances fell below what was hoped, indeed expected, but a sloppy defensive display against Peterborough aside, there has been little to be overly-critical about since that watershed moment of a heavy defeat to Shrewsbury at Bramall Lane.

The team have shown attacking prowess at times, but more importantly produced quite a few performances of old-fashioned determination to grind out a positive result.

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It is the latter that will be most important in the coming weeks.

We are almost halfway through January yet between now and the end of the month, there are five League One games to be played. Starting at Wigan, fifteen points are on offer and a period that could ultimately give a real indication as to where United should expect to be come May.

Dig in and win all of them all, and Blades fans could start believing that the gap between where they are now and the top two could be closed. Drop a few points here and there and the play-offs may be the height of their ambitions. However, suffer a severe slump and that could be that...another year in this division.

It is a hugely pivotal period.

The way the team have been playing would indicate that the latter shouldn't come up, but a lot will depend on the continued improvement of players who suffered criticism during the darker stages of the current season.

Jay McEveley has looked significantly steadier in recent games, as has Martyn Woolford. Both had been under severe pressure from some supporters and have begun to answer, but such is the fickle nature of football, they will have to keep that up and get even better before they can really shake off the jeers.

Dean Hammond falls into the category too, though to a lesser extent. There was a lot expected of the midfielder when he signed from Leicester but having been lacking in match fitness, Hammond took a while to get going. Now he is surely one of the first names on the teamsheet.

And that team sheet has been pretty consistent recently too. Nigel Adkins hasn't changed much over the past month which has been a big factor in the upturn. But with so many games coming up, he'll not be able to carry that on.

From a Sheffield United point of view, here's hoping those who have been on the periphery, can hit the ground running when their opportunity arises.

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