SHEFFIELD United manager Micky Adams has issued a 'reality check' to his players over the club's perilous position in the Championship table.
Adams has demanded a change in attitude, told his squad to forget possible play-off qualification, and emphasised his view that the next few months will be a scrap for survival.
With only one win from the last eight league games, the Blades sit two points above the relegation zone ahead of today's home game with fourth-placed Norwich City.
Adams, who took over at Bramall Lane three weeks ago, is determined to shake things up before it is too late.
"It is easy to think we are a 'big club', 'we are Sheffield United', and last year we were promotion contenders so all we have got to do is turn up," he said. "That sort of an attitude gets you relegated.
"Let's not kid ourselves; we are in a battle and, the important thing, from my point of view, is that the players now realise that.
"When I first came in, I think there was still talk of a possible play-off spot," he observed. "The players needed a reality check to make them realise they are in a battle to survive. I know what is needed to get out of it – and there has got to be a belief amongst the squad that they can get out of it. But they have also got to understand how they can get out of it and I think they do now."
Birmingham striker Marcus Bent became, on Tuesday, the third senior player signed by Adams but may start on the bench due to a shortage of match fitness. Defenders Joe Mattock and Shane Lowry, who helped the Blades keep a clean sheet at Coventry, are set to make home debuts.
"We got our heads on things and attacked the ball last week which is half the battle," reflected Adams. "What we can't have is people shirking their responsibilities either from corners, free-kicks or general play. If we have someone who doesn't fancy it, who ducks out of a header or doesn't relish a battle, we will end up with nothing."
The departure of midfielder Leon Britton – who returned to his former club Swansea City just six months after switching to Bramall Lane – is another indication that Adams wants fighters in his side for the remaining 18 games. Britton, a small and tidy playmaker, struggled to make an impact with the Blades and his sale opens the door for more new signings next week.
Although Adams stopped short of criticising his predecessors, he admitted that he was unhappy with the tempo of training sessions upon his arrival at the club.
"I am not having a go at any other manager or their beliefs but I have stressed to the boys that the tempo of training has to be improved. Training this week has been of a high quality, the work they have done has been good, so maybe we are grasping it.
"All I have asked them to do is understand where I am coming from. Other managers have their way of doing things and I'm not here to have a pop at anybody – that's not my scene – but I came into a club that is in the bottom five or four. We have got try and hit the ground running because we are running out of games."
Adams believes Bent's return to a club where he enjoyed the most prolific goalscoring spell of his career a decade ago will be a major asset to the Blades. Bent will be out of contract at Birmingham in the summer and is playing for a new deal.
"Whatever we say about the modern-day player, I find you get better value for money from players in the last year of their contracts," commented Adams.
"People are only human and when they are in the last six months of their contracts, you hopefully get more value.
"Although Marcus is 32, he has still got that yard of pace and likes to run in behind defenders. He is experienced and not one of those with no life left in the battery.
"The problem we possibly have is getting him match fit but that should only take a couple of weeks."
The Blades and Norwich are renewing rivalries less than a month after a stormy meeting at Carrow Road which resulted in both clubs being fined for failing to control their players. It was the last game prior to Adams's appointment and resulted in a 4-2 Norwich victory.
Also in the Championship today, Leeds United head to Portsmouth with manager Simon Grayson backing his players to put the memories of the club's stirring FA Cup replay defeat to Arsenal out of their minds.
The Elland Road club, who sit fifth, know victory could lift them into the automatic promotion places.
Grayson said: "The Cup is history now. We have moved on and we are looking forward to Portsmouth. The players have shown great focus and mental toughness, and they have always focused on the next game rather than what is around the corner. As soon as the final whistle went (against Arsenal), everyone's focus was on Portsmouth."
Hull City travel to Reading – looking to extend a run of having lost just once in 11 league outings – while, in League One, Huddersfield Town manager Lee Clark has called on his side to bounce back from the midweek thrashing by Carlisle in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy against Colchester United at the Galpharm Stadium.