Chris Basham insists Sheffield United can turn the jeers to cheers and rescue the Blades’ faltering season.
Last week’s 1-1 draw at strugglers Barnsley left Nigel Adkins’s pre-season promotion favourites stranded in 12th spot in League One.
The Blades are actually closer to bottom club Barnsley (a gap of nine points) than second-placed Coventry City (12).
A five-game winless streak –which reached a low in the 4-2 loss to Shrewsbury Town at Bramall Lane – has left Blades fans frustrated.
Chants of ‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt’ were heard against the Shrews, although Blades fans applauded United off the field at Oakwell.
A draw was scant reward for their first-half performance, but United were punished for not taking their chances when Conor Hourihane pounced with a stoppage-time equaliser.
Basham believes that battling display at Oakwell must be the blueprint for future games if United are to challenge for promotion this season.
“I can massively understand the criticism,” said the 27-year-old. “Every lad in the dressing room is hurting even more because it’s our livelihood.
“We can understand the chants we are getting, but it’s up to us to change that.
“I can only speak for myself but it hurts me. If we lose, I don’t speak to the wife for about a day, I don’t sleep because I’m always thinking about what I could have done better and then, when we have the analysis meeting, it hurts so much more.
“It’s got to hurt everybody and it does. Nothing seems right the next day when you wake up.
“But we’ve got a manager who is very positive in everything that he does and that’s good. All of the lads in that dressing room are fighting for each other.
“We’ve got to wear our hearts on our sleeves, first and foremost, and work hard. I’m sure we’ll come through.
“We are letting ourselves down, the club down and the fans down.
“After the Barnsley game, we got clapped off. I don’t think there was one fan who didn’t.
“We said beforehand that we should go and give them a massive clap because they’ve travelled in their numbers. So let’s show that we appreciate it on the pitch.
“In the dressing room after the game we agreed that if that’s what it takes between now and the end of the season, working like that and giving the fans what they expect, then it’s got to carry on.
“We had numerous chances and opportunities. It didn’t come off as we’d have liked, but we are creating chances. I felt that we were going to win the game.”
Basham, in common with several Blades players, will be out of contract in the summer and they all know they are fighting for their futures at Bramall Lane.
Adkins has already spoken about his desire to trim a squad that has over 40 professionals on United’s books.
“This club has become very close to me and I don’t want it to end,” said former Blackpool midfielder Basham.
“There are lads in there who are out of contract at the end of the season and are fighting to stay because they love it so much. The same goes for me.
“Every player is fighting to punch their weight. We’ll show it again.”
United can be criticised for results and quality of play in a disappointing start to the season, but Adkins has dismissed accusations his players “don’t care”.
“I think there was plenty of drive and desire on Saturday (at Oakwell),” he said. “We have worked on the training ground this week on several things, and there is a spirit around the players, a desire to do well.
“It’s easy to throw comments in like ‘oh people don’t care’. I care, and the players that we have at this football club, we demand they care.”
Today sees the Blades in FA Cup action as they host Oldham Athletic in a second-round tie at Bramall Lane.
While Adkins accepts United fans would prefer success in the league over a cup run, he also believes today’s tie offers the Blades a chance to return to winning ways.
“The next game is the important one, and it’s Oldham; we are looking forward to it,” said Adkins.
“There’s a spirit here, I can sense it. But the only stat that matters is the scoreline and we have to find a way to win.
“We value the FA Cup, the importance of it, but at the start of the season our objective was to get to the next level.
“Every supporter, if they can choose one or another, would want the league. Likewise, we respect the FA Cup and we want to do well in it.
“We are looking forward to a good game, we are at home, against a team from the same division, who we drew with earlier in the season. It’s not going to be an easy game.”
Adkins is likely to make several changes from the side which drew at Oakwell, as he utilises his large squad.
“In previous Cup games I have utilised the squad of players, the size of the squad, players want to play,” he said.
“Whatever team I put out at the weekend will have the desire, hunger and passion to win a game of football and get us through to the third round of the FA Cup.
“The FA Cup is always important, the league is always important, and those are the two big things we focus on.”