Paul Heckingbottom tells Sheffield United to stay off emotional 'roller-coaster'
Their recent wobble, combined with Middlesbrough’s excellent form, has made what had looked a routine promotion race much more nervy.
The Blades’ 2-1 win at Sunderland guaranteed their run in the Championship's top two, which began in November, will extend into April.
With promotion to the Premier League and all that entails at stake, it is unsurprising if players were distracted, but manager Heckingbottom has urged them to fight it.
"I spoke to the players before we went out to warm up (on Wednesday)," he revealed. "It's probably easier for me because I haven't got time to look at it, read it, listen to it – the media fill me in with your questions – and I probably take it a little bit for granted that I just expect everyone to blank out the noise but you can't. You live in the city, you're getting criticised for your performances.
"We beat Reading (and people say) we're going up, we lose to Luton we're not going up, Boro drop points, we're going up again, we beat Sunderland, we're going up.
"If we let that affect us, we're on that roller-coaster, and our mood, how we're performing daily on the training ground, is affected.
"We have to forget about it and focus on the pitch and how we prepare during the week. It is a cliche but you have to.
"I think Wednesday was the first time I'd explained it better to the players. If you're going to get involved in all that, it's going to affect you. Don't, focus on us."
Boro’s draw at Stoke City on Tuesday, missing the chance to reduce the gap to the Blades to a point, was another twist.
"It shouldn't (affect us) but I'm not naive enough to think that it doesn't," said Heckingbottom.
"Am I glad they dropped points? Of course I am but I don't want it to affect us and I don't want to get involved in that roller-coaster so I don't perform properly every day.
"I want the players or staff to do the same but I know players are watching it (Middlesbrough’s game), I know they'll have been glad when they dropped points, it's human nature."
Now their league campaign is on hold with Sunday's FA Cup quarter-final against Blackburn Rovers followed by an international break.
Heckingbottom wants to use it as a change of scenery.
"We've approached it like that and I certainly think the fans have approached it that way, a bit more freedom and less anxious," he said.
"I hope that continues. I'd love that freedom and joy in the stadium every week but it's going to get anxious because of where we are in the league and the stage of the season.
"But the cups add a different feel. Go out and enjoy it, it's not every day you get to an FA Cup quarter-final, we're at home with no replay.
"This week is a big week in the season. It could be a huge week in the season. It could be a huge week in the careers of players. It could be a huge week in the history of the club.
"That's the position we've got ourselves in and that's what we're playing for, that's why we have to enjoy it. We can't be fearful."