Jay McEveley insists stability is the key for Sheffield United whatever happens over the next few weeks.
Saturday’s stalemate with fourth-placed Gillingham means the Blades’ play-off hopes are fading swiftly. They are eight points adrift of the top six with six games remaining.
But there are signs at United that under Nigel Adkins things are improving.
At full-time, rather than jeers, Blades fans in the 18,152 crowd clapped their side off the pitch after seeing a Bramall Lane performance full of commitment and attacking intent.
All that was missing was a goal. Che Adams struck the crossbar in the opening exchanges, and Gills goalkeeper Stuart Nelson rescued the visitors on several occasions.
But even if United fail to reach the play-offs, and the ultimate prize of promotion, McEveley has seen enough to be excited about the Blades’ future under Adkins – still in his first season at the Lane.
“It’s disappointing, we threw everything at them,” said McEveley, after the Blades and their adopted 3-5-2 formation stretched their unbeaten home run to four games.
“We came off the pitch and a few of the lads were saying, ‘how have we not won that game?’
“But the consistency of the team over the last six weeks has been what we wanted; it’s what we needed.
“A lot of people have been disappointed in the season we have had, but you can’t just expect a whole new coaching staff, manager, team to come together in July and everything to click in August.
“It doesn’t work like that. Maybe once in a blue moon, but the majority of clubs it takes time to settle and build.
“I think you are seeing now that here, in our performances and consistency. The system is working well and the lads are enjoying it. The fans can see what we are trying to do.
“It (3-5-2) gives us a good defensive resolve, but a great attacking threat as well. It’s really enjoyable to play in. The lads are loving it.
“We have been wanting to find a system, where we can connect with the fans. It seems to be working, they seem to be enjoying their football.
“We are not conceding stupid goals, as we were earlier in the season, we look defensively solid.
“The attacking threat, we have got bodies and runners all over the pitch.
“The fans can see that and it bodes well for the future.
“Things don’t always click into place, you have to work on things. People need to understand each other.
“It’s building up now, and if we can put a strong end to the season – no matter where we finish – going into next season it will stand the club in great stead, and there will be an excitement and buzz around the place.
“It (stability) has to be done. You see teams in upheaval all the time, from the Premier League down to the Conference.
“It doesn’t do the team any good, or the club, you just need to stick with someone who can push you forward.
“This manager and the coaching staff are getting things working here, the players are enjoying it, the fans seem to be enjoying it, so it’s good looking ahead to the future.”
Adams was denied by the woodwork inside the first minute, before Turner thwarted both Adams and Billy Sharp before half-time.
Matt Done headed over at the back post, following Sharp’s cross, before Sharp and Adams both missed out following a superb cross from Paul Coutts. United had a glorious chance to snatch victory late on, but Adams poked wide after Flynn’s ball came at him quickly.
Gillingham had chances of their own to snatch victory and complete a league double, after thrashing the Blades 4-0 on the opening day of the season.
Defender Deji Oshilaja headed over from six yards out, and McEveley was at the centre of penalty appeals from the Gills after he blocked a goal-bound shot on the line.
The defender admitted to The Yorkshire Post that the ball did hit his hand, but said it was not intentional.
“It might have hit my hand, but my hand never moved from my side,” said McEveley.
“What’s handball nowadays? The ball has come through bodies, it hit me in the stomach then my hand, and (Chris) Basham was there to clear it away.
“It’s the bit of luck you need sometimes. It’s just unfortunate that we couldn’t put the ball in at the other end.”
United had a penalty appeal of their own rejected after Ryan Flynn broke through but went down under a challenge from goalkeeper Nelson.
McEveley said: “I asked Ryan, and he said he (the goalkeeper) might have got a nick on the ball, but he did catch him. It’s one of them, it was just a frustrating day.”
Blades’ boss Adkins praised fans for sticking with his team.
“The reception was nice, especially because it was a victory that we were after,” he said.
“We might not be the best players but we work hard. There was some exciting football out there. All we can do is keep building and focus on the next game.”
Sheffield United: Long, Baptiste, Edgar, McEveley, Coutts, Basham, Hammond, Flynn, Done, Sharp, Adams. Unused substitutes: Howard, Woolford, Sammon, Calvert-Lewin, McGahey, Cuvelier, Whiteman.
Gillingham: Nelson, Ehmer, El-Abd, Oshilaja, Jackson, Hessenthaler (Williams 32 (Dack 82)), Crofts, Wright, Dickenson, Donnelly (McDonald 62), Norris. Unused substitutes: Garmston, Egan, G Morris, A Morris.
Referee: R Lewis.