IN troubled times, footballers invariably talk of the future and claim that the key to success lies in looking forward rather than back.
But Danny Higginbotham has never been prepared to shy away from confrontation. And so, after seeing Yeovil Town condemn Sheffield United to a second straight home defeat, it came as no surprise to hear him insist the best way to cope with the expectation which appeared to weigh so heavily upon their shoulders is by remembering the past.
Cat-calls, boos and ironic cheers provided an acerbic soundtrack to Higginbotham’s Bramall Lane debut for Danny Wilson’s side as Paddy Madden’s brace ensured the visitors’ unlikely play-off push continues to gather pace.
“We’ve got to appreciate that when people come here it‘s their cup final,” Higginbotham, a free-transfer signing from Stoke City, said. “There’s a pressure that comes with that and it’s not always easy but the best way to handle situations like this is to reflect on the good moments.
“We know that when we’re winning games this ground will be absolutely buzzing. The atmosphere will be immense and that’s what should drive us on.
“We know what our stadium’s going to be like when things are going well. And we want that back.
“Obviously it’s not the start I would have wanted here,” Higginbotham added. “But I’ve been in positions like this before and not so long ago either with Stoke. Games in the Championship where the fans were getting on our backs a bit because we were drawing or whatever at half-time but you come through.
“The United fans are so passionate and, as a player, you can’t have it both ways.
“You can’t ask people to be passionate and then expect them not to express an opinion.
“They work hard in the week and they want to be entertained.
“The one thing I do know about United fans, however, is that they stick by their team.
“I know because I’ve experienced it already here, and knew that even before I came.”
Addressing his team’s chequered home form will feature prominently on Wilson’s agenda at Shirecliffe this week. The first task, though, must be repairing the confidence of teenage goalkeeper George Long whose error gifted Madden the second of his two strikes and brought United’s brief revival to a shuddering halt.
Wilson’s assessment of Long’s mistake, which came when he attempted to control a routine back-pass, was more forgiving than the one delivered by some sections of an increasingly irate crowd.
Higginbotham, whose return was hunted down by Madden, was in equally measured mood.
“George, by all accounts, has been absolutely immense since he came into the side,” he said. “Absolutely exceptional.
“We’re all human and we all make mistakes. But when you play in George’s position they tend to be more costly than for the rest of us.
“It’s happened and it’s part and parcel of being a professional. We don’t like making them but we all do.
“What it doesn’t change is the fact that he’s a damn good keeper.”
Although both Wilson and Higginbotham expressed concerns about the state of the pitch - “We’ve got lots of technical players here and the surface makes that difficult,” the latter acknowledged -
neither sought to deny Yeovil the credit their efforts deserved.
They were first to almost every loose ball during the opening period and as bright as their gaudy green kit, and
only a combination of profligate finishing and careless thinking prevented them from enjoying a commanding lead at the interval.
Madden, though, rectified that situation by seizing upon a defensive lapse to drill a low shot past Long soon after the re-start before later profiting from the youngster’s mistake.
Revealing Gary Johnson, whose charges are now eighth in the League One table - five points and four places behind United - had set Yeovil on course for victory by screening a special DVD in the team’s hotel, Madden said: “The gaffer showed us a film of his promotion-winning season with Bristol City and it was really upbeat stuff.
“All of the lads enjoyed it and it put us in a good frame of mind.
“At half-time we agreed we had to be more clinical and that’s exactly what we were.
“We’re in a good position now and hopefully the results keep on coming.”
United were sluggish and laboured against opponents who, 12 months ago at this stadium, they had dispatched with ease.
Tony McMahon troubled Marek Stech with a long-range attempt before Dave Kitson glanced a header just beyond the far post.
But not before Madden had inexplicably screwed wide after evading his markers during the early skirmishes and James Hayter had twice gone close.
Jamie Murphy, making his second start for United, showed brief glimpses of quality. But, like fellow forwards Nick Blackman, Ryan Flynn and Kitson, he spent long periods on the periphery of a rugged contest.
“Yeovil didn’t allow us to do the things that we wanted,” Higginbotham said. “That’s something we’ll no doubt look at in training.
“Yes, what happened was really disappointing and frustrating. We all know we can do better than that.
“I’m honoured and privileged to be able to represent a club like this. We’re still in a good place and it’s important to recognise that there’s plenty of football left to go yet.”