Sheffield United had better hope it was another ‘Crewe Moment’.
The thoroughly miserable, woeful and potentially calamitous result which, in fact, acts as the catalyst for a series of commanding performances.
United, then languishing in the relegation zone, recorded 10 straight wins after being beaten at Gresty Road two seasons ago. Twenty-one months later, and after being humbled on home soil by Shrewsbury Town, they have reached another crossroads. Win, lose or draw, tomorrow’s South Yorkshire derby against Barnsley will tell us plenty about the character of Nigel Adkins’ squad.
I say win, lose or draw because a positive outcome in terms of the scoreline can never be guaranteed. It doesn’t take HG Wells or Mary Shelley to imagine various circumstances whereby United might finish the match having deserved to succeed but, after a poor offside decision, series of injuries or controversial sending-off, leave Oakwell without any reward. That, like it or not, is the fickle business of sport. Folk who suggest otherwise, usually those with an inflated sense of their own importance, are just plain wrong.
Confidence will inevitably be low among their number at present, something Lee Johnson’s side will attempt to exploit. What United must deliver, however, is a combative performance. Or, to put it another way, a response. If they don’t - and given that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different outcome - then Adkins must be given carte blanche to hack out the dead wood and start over with, barring a few notable exceptions, different personnel.
Because, while there is no shortage of ability within their ranks, this current crop of United players need more leaders to emerge. That, I think, is the problem. A lack of on-the-pitch leadership which should not be confused with ranting, raving and snarling at opponents.
The late, great Emanuel Steward once said boxing champions “were made within.” The same goes for footballers too.
Adkins’ predecessor Nigel Clough summoned the team to a meeting 24 hours after that defeat to Crewe and told them, in no uncertain terms, that because they were languishing in the relegation zone, he was waiting to discover whether certain members would “sink or swim.” Reading between the lines, a similar message was relayed after Tuesday’s 4-2 reverse.
United might not be quite as good as first thought. But they are better than they showed last time out. With only five points separating them from the top six positions, as opposed to 20 in February 2014, there is every possibility the campaign could still end on a positive note. Providing they demonstrate the necessary fight, focus and, yes, leadership.