Dean Hammond reveals why it didn't work out for him at Sheffield United, and mental anguish that followed
Dean Hammond has opened up on his difficult loan spell at Sheffield United under Nigel Adkins, revealing the mental anguish that came from not being able to change Blades fans' perceptions of him as a player.
Hammond spent the majority of the infamous 2015/16 season on loan at Bramall Lane from Leicester City, but became the symbol of United's decline in the eyes of many United supporters as the club laboured to an 11th-place finish in League One.
Hopes were high when Hammond arrived at United. Under Adkins, he had captained Southampton to back-to-back promotions from League One to the Premier League, and later helped Leicester City into the top flight by winning the Championship title in 2013-14.
But Adkins and Hammond could not repeat that fate at Bramall Lane. The season ended with a 2-0 home defeat to Scunthorpe and by the time Adkins appeared to lead his side on a post-match lap of dishonour, only a few hundred fans could be bothered to stay behind and voice their displeasure.
For many, anger had given way to apathy and in a sad indictment of how far the club had fallen, the majority had simply got up and gone home.
"We had a good squad," Hammond remembered.
"There are not many reasons why it shouldn't have clicked but unfortunately it didn't.
"I can't speak for anyone else but I didn't perform to the level I expected when I came in, and I don't think we got the relationships right on the pitch. We couldn't quite click and get a run together.
"The players spoke about it in the dressing room. We cared.
"It wasn't like we weren't trying. It may have looked like that, but we were. We trained really, really hard. We'd do double sessions twice a week, training at Bramall Lane against the 23s to make sure the shape was right.
"We were prepared and for whatever reason, we just didn't perform on a Saturday, which is the most important thing. I think it was a number of small things that just didn't work out."
The malaise was banished when Adkins was sacked, Chris Wilder was appointed as his replacement and only now, after two promotions in three years and a stunning first season in the Premier League, has the club's remarkable recent journey derailed slightly.
One of the first items in Wilder's in-tray when he succeeded Adkins was Hammond. His loan deal contained the option for a permanent contract, in his favour, which was unsurprisingly taken up. He was immediately transfer listed before a compromise was reached to see him leave Bramall Lane.
Hammond recently appeared on the Sheff United Way podcast and spoke really well about his short time at United, his theories on why that season went so badly wrong and the mental struggles that followed.
"Individually I struggled for performances, there's no hiding away from that and I take full responsibility," he added.
"But there were some good times and the best thing I enjoyed was playing at Bramall Lane. The atmosphere was brilliant.
"We won at Scunthorpe and it was packed behind the goal with Blades fans. They were going mental and I was thinking: 'This is amazing. That's what football's all about'.
"The support from the fans was unbelievable, considering the results and performances. Home and away, they would come and support us.
"We weren't thinking that we didn't want to play at home. Personally, it was the opposite. I wanted to show the fans what I could do, and I never really did that. That's life, and you have to move on from that. But I had a difficult couple of years.
"Mentally, it affected me. My character is and always has been never to run away from anything. Face up to things and if you're not doing well, do something about it and change people's opinions.
"I didn't do that and I have to live with that. And it took me a long time to get past that guilt.
"Would I have stayed? I would, but I don't think it'd have worked out. And with the club going on to do what it has done, it was a good decision."
Hammond also revealed the lengths he went to to try and turn around his form whilst at United.
"I hesitated a lot and questioned myself a lot in games," he said. "And that, not being instinctive, leads to mistakes.
"In the moment, when you think: 'Jesus, I'm playing s*** again and messing it up again', you try different things to try and make up for it. When all you need to do is go back to what you naturally do well.
"You should be thinking about the next move before the ball comes, whether you can take an extra touch. If you're thinking: 'Don't mess this up' when the ball comes towards you, you're not thinking about the game.
"I was trying all sorts. I was mentally tired and really, I needed to rest. But I was working even harder in training, putting extra hours in.
"My mentality was: 'If I'm not playing well, I need to work harder'. So I wasn't preparing myself properly. I was travelling too much so I'd stay in the hotel and feel guilty with my wife being heavily pregnant. I did pilates and yoga. I was buying proper nutritional food, I wasn't eating hotel food. I read books to try and get better, and really all I was doing was making a mountain out of a molehill.
"I'd love to have put that right. But I can't go back in time.
"I didn't perform well. The criticism I get, I fully accept. I fully accept responsibility for my performances.
"The fans were great. I know it was a tough time for them, but sometimes you have to go really low to find the heights the club have found now."