THE most recent of Nigel Adkins’s three promotions from League One came during a season when things did not truly click for his Southampton side until after Christmas.
When Huddersfield Town travelled to St Mary’s, for instance, for the final game of 2010, the Saints were sitting in a lowly 11th place and facing up to missing out on even the play-offs despite having started the campaign as the bookmakers’ favourites to go up.
By May, of course, second place had been secured with a 4-1 win over the Terriers on December 28 being the first of four in a row and 20 overall to earn Adkins another promotion success in the third tier to go with his double at Scunthorpe United.
If December is anything to go by, Adkins may be about to gatecrash the promotion race in a manner similar to five years ago with a trio of wins having taken his Sheffield United side to within a point of the play-off spots.
That the side occupying sixth place, Peterborough, head to Bramall Lane tomorrow adds to the sense that things are coming together at Bramall Lane.
Certainly, Adkins is happy with how things are going after United produced some of their best football of the season in Monday’s derby triumph over Bradford City.
“We are at the halfway mark now,” said the 50-year-old, “and we are in and around it. There is a long way to go, but I am looking for us to get stronger and stronger during the second half of the season.
“Against Bradford, that was a mature performance from a team that has got ability and experience. We had the work-rate of Dean Hammond and Chris Basham. There was Paul Coutts alongside them, getting on the ball and pinging it about, while Martyn Woolford had a good game, too.
“They are experienced players and they do the horrible things well. The nasty, unfashionable things, if you like, that are necessary to win games. Things like work ethic and graft. We will need those against Peterborough.
“Martyn got a standing ovation coming off in the Bradford game and maybe that was a turning point. So far, it’s not quite happened for him but we all know what he can do and the qualities he has got. The new additions we have brought in have rarely, off the top of my head, all been on the pitch together at the same time.
“They are experienced and they have ability. Sometimes, whether people like it or not, it does take a period of time to settle in. Hopefully, our supporters can see how hard Martyn works.”
A big factor in United’s move up the table in December was Billy Sharp’s return to form.
After a lean spell for a couple of months, the striker netted in all three of last month’s league victories with his strike against Bradford, in particular, being of the highest order.
Adkins added: “Billy has scored three in three now. We know he is always going to get goals, that is why we brought him here again.
“But, in the Bradford game especially, he was getting hold of the ball and was tenacious with his running. There was a real togetherness with the crowd. We were all united together and that is what we want.
“We will need it against Peterborough. We know it is going to be a challenging fixture, but I am sure Peterborough will be thinking exactly the same, too. They will attack and be open in that sense. We have to do the basics well, as we will create opportunities.”