Bramall Lane’s new manager will rely on past experience to help the club out of League One. Richard Sutcliffe reports.
NIGEL ADKINS has been here before.
On taking over as manager of Southampton a month into the 2010-11 season, the one-time goalkeeper knew not even being third bottom of League One had lessened the expectation surrounding a club that just five or so years earlier had been in the Premier League.
Saints, after finishing seventh the previous season despite being deducted 10 points and lifting the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at Wembley in front of almost 75,000 fans, simply had to go up. Or so the club’s supporters believed, at least.
Adkins quickly warmed to the task. By Christmas, he had taken the south coast outfit from 22nd to the automatic promotion places. Nineteen wins from New Year’s Day onwards then ensured Saints’ stay in the third tier was over after just two years.
Sheffield United’s own stint in League One may be about to enter a fifth season but the sense of expectation is the same. The Blades simply have to go up and Adkins knows it.
“I am not going to hide away from how desperate we are to get up,” said the 50-year-old, who also twice led Scunthorpe United into the Championship, when speaking to The Yorkshire Post.
“Fortunately, I have been in this position before. I was at a big football club in exactly the same situation so I would like to think that I can draw on that experience.
“Everyone can draw on it, in fact, because we all share the same goal. We all want to go up and we want to do it this season.
“There will be days when things don’t go our way and that is when we will need to stick together as a football club.
“What we won’t do as a group is get too high when we win and too low when we lose. We will keep a consistency about ourselves and I like to think we will be in a position come the end to get ourselves out of this division.
“There are so many lessons that you learn by doing things. People learn by making decisions and mistakes. Learning from them means not repeating those mistakes. You have to be bold enough to learn from it.
“I use the word ‘flourish’ and to do that I am looking for five positive experiences and one negative one. You have to have a negative experience to improve because that tells me you are prepared to make decisions. And learn those lessons before moving on.”
Since being relegated in 2011, United have started slowly. A year ago, for instance, the opening two games yielded no points and it was mid-September before Nigel Clough’s Blades troubled the top six.
The previous season was far, far worse with United rock bottom after winning just one of their first 11 games, while in 2012-13 the club’s first nine outings brought six draws.
Starting well this time, therefore, is paramount and Adkins has been encouraged by a pre-season that saw his new charges remain unbeaten despite their programme of six fixtures including meetings with Newcastle United and Hull City.
“There is a feelgood factor about the place,” said the new Bramall Lane chief. “We had some good results, some of our performances have been good and our build-up work has been good.
“The big thing, of course, is how we do this season but, for me, we have given ourselves an opportunity to do well. Expectation has risen so we have to try and control that. It is the end of the season when we need to be in the right division.
“But we have worked hard and I can feel the entire club is together. We are united.”
The past two seasons may not have brought promotion but United did twice battle through to the last four of a major Cup competition.
Last term, Tottenham Hotspur edged the Blades out in the Capital One Cup over two legs, while Hull prevailed in an all-Yorkshire semi-final tie at Wembley in the FA Cup the previous season.
One possible consequence of these Cup exertions, however, is that the club’s league form may have suffered.
“The club has had some great times in the Cups,” he said. “The league is our priority. I am clear about that. But what I will say with regards the Cups is that if you put a Sheffield United shirt on, you wear that shirt with honour.
“The very least you do is work hard. That is the minimum requirement. You might not be good enough, you might make mistakes.
“But you work hard, that is the least we owe the supporters, the football club and the badge. The players also owe it to themselves.
“The group has bought into what we want. The attitude has been spot on and there is a good camaraderie. Again, everyone will want to play but they all realise that we share a common goal.
“Many of this group experienced 60-odd games last season and that means it is a long, hard and challenging season that we face. But one we should relish.”
On the hunt for promotion, Adkins added: “I have experienced both sides of the coin in League One with Southampton and Scunthorpe. But, the bottom line is I am very, very respectful of the league and our opponents.
“We have no given right to do anything. We have to earn that right to play. I would like to think the attitude our players have shown so far shows we will give ourselves the opportunity to earn that right.”