When Nigel Adkins admits he must choose his words carefully, you know something has gone awry.
But, after watching Port Vale condemn Sheffield United to a third defeat in six outings, the visitors’ usually garrulous manager decided it was best to speak in concise, measured tones.
Yes, he acknowledged, individual errors of judgement had contributed towards the final outcome.
No, those responsible would not be publicly hung out to dry.
Matt Done, who marked his long-awaited return from injury by scoring a late consolation, also refused to satisfy the clamour for fall guys and scapegoats.
He did, however, lay bare the challenges United must overcome to avoid spending a sixth successive season in League One.
“Everywhere we go, be it at home or away, it’s the biggest game of the season for whoever we are playing,” he said.
“If we gift them goals then it gives them something to hold on to and we can’t afford to keep doing that.
“You saw it out there, they scored and it gave them and the fans a lift and something to build on going forward.
“It’s something we’ve got to rectify, there’s no doubt about that.”
Despite much of the narrative surrounding their results of late, United are not in crisis or desperately short of ability and confidence. Nor was this a calamitious display or result.
But Saturday’s contest did illustrate some members of Adkins’ squad seem unable to grasp that being exalted by rivals beforehand does not mean they can be cowed into submission.
Instead, as Done insinuated afterwards, United must become more assertive.
“It’s a great squad,” Done continued. “The lads, the staff and everyone at the training ground, we’re all in it from top to bottom.
“Performances and results lately haven’t reflected how much we want promotion and how badly we want to win because we work so hard and put so much in during the week.
“There’s a lot of football to be played yet, though. There’s a lot of business to be done. We’ve got get a run going, be calm and steady and put out stamp on things.”
Maintaining perspective is easier said than done at a club where moods can swing so ferociously it would make Supernanny weep.
Nonetheless, together with utilising the emergency loan market to make some minor adjustments, that is the task facing Adkins and his staff over the coming weeks.
Done, who fractured his collarbone soon after the 50-year-old’s appointment in June, used a second-half cameo to remind why he is such a major asset and scrambled home after Byron Moore and Uche Ikpeazu had fired Port Vale ahead.
“I’m delighted to be back but really frustrated with the result,” Done acknowledged.
“I was sitting on the bench, kicking and heading every single ball and basically just itching to get out there.
“We started really well and looked like we were going to go on and dominate the game but then we let them back in with two soft goals. It was always going to be an uphill struggle after that.”
Adkins, who watched the opening skirmishes from the stands - “The pitch is so wide, you get a better idea of spaces and shape” - offered a similar assessment of how the contest unfolded.
Jose Baxter was busy and, following a driving run which nearly ended with Paul Coutts being released, the Blades aw David Edgar and Chris Basham both go close before Billy Sharp, profiting from Conor Sammon’s vision, blazed the first of several chances wide.
But, after failing to translate their superiority into goals, United lost control when Moore turned home Colin Daniel’s pass and some hesitant defending was punished by Ikpeazu’s decisive drive.
“I thought we looked comfortable and then the tide just seemed to swing,” Done said.
“Our form hasn’t been brilliant the last few weeks and we need to find some momentum and change that straight away.
“We need to turn performances into wins and, if we are not playing well, still make sure we churn them out.”
With Vale growing in stature - Daniel later hit the crossbar following another scramble in front of Howard - Jak Alnwick’s superb save to deny Sharp a seventh goal in nine outings moments after the interval proved crucial with Done reducing the deficit deep into added time.
“I’ve sat watching the lads create loads of chances recently,” Done said.
“I’m looking forward to coming back in, working hard and hopefully taking some of those when I get properly back up to speed.”
Port Vale: Alnwick 7, Purkiss 6, Dickinson 6, Streete 6, Duffy 6, Ikpeazu 7 (Dodds 74), Foley 6, Daniel 6 (Leitch-Smith 89), Moore 6, Andoh 6, Grant 6. Not used: Johnson, McGivern, Birchall, Hooper, Brown.
Sheffield United: Howard 6, Freeman 6, Edgar 5 (Kennedy 46, 7), Collins 6, K Wallace 6, Coutts 6 (Done 60, 7), Baxter 6, Basham 6, Flynn 5 (Adams 46, 5), Sharp 6, Sammon 6. Not used: Long, McEveley, Campbell-Ryce, Reed.
Referee: Graham Salisbury (Lancashire).