TROUBLED South Yorkshire rivals Barnsley and Sheffield United lock horns today in a lunchtime derby at Oakwell in “a game which can right many wrongs”.
That is the view of Reds chief Lee Johnson as he faces counterpart Nigel Adkins, with the two managers both under mounting pressure to rescue their deflating seasons.
Barnsley have lost eight of their last nine games in League One and are in the relegation zone, while the Blades slumped to a 4-2 home defeat to Shrewsbury Town on Tuesday night which leaves them stranded in 12th spot, 12 points behind leaders Coventry City.
It is a scenario neither manager could have foreseen when the League One campaign kicked off in August.
Johnson admits he has been surprised to see the South Yorkshire rivals struggling for results.
“I am surprised at both teams,” he said. “I am surprised where we are, surprised by where they are.
“But it just goes to show that football is not played on paper. You have to turn up, cut out individual errors and score goals.
“Neither team will be happy with how they are going, but this is a game which can right many wrongs. We have to make sure it’s us doing that.”
While Barnsley are plumbing the depths in 22nd place – and are seeking to avoid their fifth successive league defeat at Oakwell today – the Blades are also in grave need of a victory to prevent their own drama from lurching into a full-blown crisis.
Adkins is the first to accept the Blades’ position is nowhere near good enough or unacceptable for a side rated as promotion favourites at the start of the season – and hinted some players may have reached the end of the road after the loss to Shrewsbury.
That represented the nadir in the Blades’ seasonal fortunes, although Adkins is now focused ondrawing strength from adversity and moving on from the grim result.
He said: “Maybe Tuesday was the lowest ebb and the turning point and the opportunity to turn it around and move forward.
“If we strain every sinew on the field of play (at Barnsley), I know and guarantee that the supporters will get right behind everybody.
“That is what they deserve and we have to give that to them, so as a football club, united as one, we can go and achieve things
“Sometimes out of adversity comes strength.”
Clearly hurting in the immediate aftermath of that setback, the former Reading and Southampton manager has now dusted himself down and has come out fighting – and is demanding that his players, who take the field in front of 3,500 Unitedites, do the same.
The Blades chief has vowed to be ruthless in his quest to yield an upturn at Bramall Lane, with his side having not won in five league matches and having triumphed just twice in their past 10 League One outings.
Adkins, promoted three times from this level as a manager, said: “I have got to be very ruthless and I intend to be a winner as that’s what I do.”
He said: “As far as I am concerned, I have got to do whatever it takes and however it comes to make sure we get things right at this football club and we are going to give everything we have got to drive ourselves forward to make that happen.
“We have to put the Shrewsbury game to bed and move forward.
“That’s what we can effect; moving forward.
“The next game we have against our local rivals is a great game as we will have 3,500 passionate Blades behind the goal roaring the team on.
“Are we up for it? I am certainly up for it and the players’ mindset has got to be right and we are doing everything that we can to make sure that is there so that when they cross that white line on Saturday they are going to feel 10-feet tall and do everything that they can to win a game of football.”
Johnson admits he is too preoccupied to concern himself with the situation Adkins finds himself in at Bramall Lane to harbour thoughts of any sympathy as he faces his own battle to escape the relegation scrap.
He added: “I have no time to have sympathy for Nigel, I have got too many things of my own to think of.
“It’s a tough job, any job in football management is tough, for different reasons.
“You can have the highest budget in the division and be under-performing and you can also have the lowest budget in the division and can’t get any players in.”
Hammill adds fuel to the fire with Tykes: Page 3