LES PAYNE: Pressure’s off as Blades have nothing to lose . . .

Ouch: But Wayne Rooney got away with his alleged elbow on James McCarthy.  Picture: Nick Fairhurst
Ouch: But Wayne Rooney got away with his alleged elbow on James McCarthy. Picture: Nick Fairhurst
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THIS may be contrary to popular belief but there is hope for Sheffield United.

It’s precisely because the vast majority in the red and white half of the city have given up and say there’s no hope of them staying up that they might now just have some hope!

Puzzled? I’ll try and explain the supposed logic. And if you reckon I’m suggesting you clutch at straws well, go on and grab a handful!

Three defeats - one of them from two up in seven minutes - against relegation rivals have left the Blades staring into the abyss of League One and people writing them off.

You can’t blame them and when they lost to Derby - who’ve been pretty rubbish themselves lately - I wrote them off as well.

But isn’t that what footballers and football teams supposedly rather like and thrive on?

Tell your archetypal English footballer that they’ve no chance, nobody gives them an earthly and that they’re the underdogs and the other lot are red-hot favourites and it usually fires ‘em up and there’ll be copious amounts of sweat and toil accompanied by a bit of blood and snot, in a bid to prove people wrong.

United have just lost games against Palace, Scunthorpe and Derby which all seemed eminently winnable. There was pressure on them to definitely get wins, certainly a result.

Now they are coming up to a set of fixtures which, given their circumstances of no win in 14 games, suggests they’ve no chance in.

Anyone fancy them at Portsmouth tomorrow? No, thought not.

Booming Forest at the Lane next Tuesday. Have United got an earthly? Not even that much!

There’s others too and Blades fans are fearing the worst.

So, what have the players sent out by Micky Adams from now on got to lose, starting at Fratton Park tomorrow?

This set of players are now in a position no United team has been in since they dropped out of the Premier League.

They’ve always been fancied whoever they’ve played, usually from a position up near the top spots.

Now they’re not. And if you can make a case out for them then I’d be interested to hear it.

So, the pressure is off. Now, can this bunch of players make being written off work for them?

Can they pull together, with some sort of defiance, treating every little thing that goes their way as a small victory and buck a trend - go out and upset the odds.

I thought players and teams thrived on the old siege mentality thing. Managers even nurture it, manufacture things so it’s you against the world and one former manager certainly cultivated it.

Micky Adams and his players certainly have to make something work for them, somehow - or there really will be no hope!

I’ve noticed a new word that’s crept into football and seems to have become the latest “buzzword”.

You don’t talk about players or the team or the squad. No, it’s The Group.

Obviously there’s been some management seminar somewhere (where you no longer ‘tell everybody’ but ‘cascade the announcement’) and managers emerged convinced it’s no longer about the players who’ve played but The Group.

The other week Orient boss Russell Slade (once a coach at Bramall Lane) talked about The Group and it wasn’t short for “this group of players”. I imagine it was aimed at everyone.

Listen out for it (and not just in football). And soon it won’t be boss but Gruppenfuhrer.

Should I want to finish work pretty abruptly then I’d bring a .22 air rifle (the last time I fired one was at tin cans in my cousin’s back garden as a kid) into work and shoot a work experience lad. The P45 would be on the desk by lunchtime.

Of course, Premier League football has very different rules to a normal workplace and there was never any chance that Chelsea would ditch Ashley Cole who’s done some pretty stupid things in recent years.

Dressing room prank? Yeh, it’s a culture but the thought that you’d even take a weapon into work adds weight to those who argue that top footballers believe they can do just about anything they want.

And talking of getting away with it, Wayne Rooney did despite his forearm, er, smash onto his Wigan opponent James McCarthy.

What surprised me even more was referee Mark Clattenburg apparently checking the video replay of the incident and deciding he’d stick by his original decision.

I find aspects of that rather disturbing. Referees are under the most enormous, crushing pressure when they ref Man United and particularly at Old Trafford and I find Clattenburg’s assessment rather disconcerting.

About three years ago, I saw Steven Davies bat at Queens Park and said “I like the look of this lad”.

I was, of course, referring totally to his batting ability.

This week, he became the first cricketer to publicly ‘out’ himself over his sexuality. Inevitably there’ll be those not comfortable with having a ‘gay’ cricketer around but the fact he’s done it and the support he’s had, further indicates that society is moving on rapidly in this 21st century.

Next might be a footballer coming out. But don’t hold your breath on that one!