Reaching the latter stages of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy might not be the most important item on their agenda at present but, as Simon Lappin acknowledged yesterday, Sheffield United are in no position to start prioritising games, writes James Shield.
David Weir’s team enter tonight’s second round tie against Hartlepool searching for its first win since last month’s penalty shoot-out success at Scunthorpe, languishing towards the foot of the League One table and with the former Scotland international conceding he is under acute pressure to starting delivering results.
“Regardless of the competition, you want to win the game,” Lappin, the on-loan from Cardiff City, said. “And when you get one, it tends to be the case that others follow.
“There are quality players here and the lads are in good spirits. I’ve not walked into a dressing room that’s in poor spirits. That’s good because you can’t afford to get too down about things.
Hartlepool, who stand between United and a place in the Northern Area quarter-final draw, arrive at Bramall Lane in chequered form although Saturday’s emphatic victory over Mansfield Town suggests Colin Cooper’s methods are beginning to take effect.
That 4-1 success, coupled with the 5-0 scoreline they posted against Bradford City in the previous round, underlined the visitors’ potential to spring an upset despite their lowly position in League Two.
“I’ll pick the best team I can, Sheffield United are in League One,” Cooper, confirming he will resist the temptation to make wholesale changes, said. “If I thought I can go to Sheffield United and rotate the team then that’s surely being over-confident.
“I’m focusing on going to Bramall Lane and putting on a good show for Hartlepool. Whatever that team turns out to be I’ll be expecting the same level of commitment.”
Nevertheless, Hartlepool will be forced to make at least one change with Jack Baldwin, arguably Cooper’s most consistent performer, ineligible for selection after collecting his fifth caution of the season at Field Mill while fellow midfielders Matty Dolan (groin) and Sam Collins (knee) are also doubts.
“Rotation is dangerous,” Cooper added. “We’re not Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United.”
With competition rules prohibiting a major reshuffle, United’s starting eleven is also unlikely to differ sharply from the one which entertained Crawley although the likes of Jamie Murphy, Mark Howard and Stephen McGinn could all earn recalls.
Weir’s assistant Lee Carsley was critical of United’s first-half showing during Friday’s draw with Crawley Town - “We gave away too much territory and possession” - but praised the second-half response which enabled them to avert a seventh consecutive league defeat.
“A lot of the lads have told us they want to play,” he said. “They feel as if they have a bit of momentum going so we might let them do that.
“You always want a response and we got one. Supporters will often forgive poor performances but not a lack of effort and we showed that after the break.”
That result lifted United into 22nd place ahead of Sunday’s scheduled visit to Coventry City.
Lappin, who made his debut for the South Yorkshire club against Town, was a member of the Norwich City squad which climbed-out of the third tier and into the top-flight in successive seasons.
“At Norwich, we were bottom of this division when Paul Lambert took over,” he said. “We went up which just goes to show what can happen, it shows you can give it a go.
“If you don’t believe then there’s no point in turning-up.”
Confirming he could remain with United beyond the duration of his month long agreement, Lappin said: “In this division and the Championship, two or three wins can get you right up there in the mix.”