COLOSSAL, momentous, critical. Call it what you will. Sheffield United’s promotion challenge does not hinge entirely upon the outcome of this evening’s encounter with Crawley Town, writes James Shield, but Neill Collins last night made no attempt to downplay the contest’s significance.
“The next few games we have are make or break,” the centre-half said. “And the ones at home are massive.
“There’s a points total we need to realise and I’m glad, whatever people might want to believe, that we’ve got three matches at our ground because it can be a really intimidating place.”
Collins, of course, was referring to United’s chequered record at Bramall Lane which, some critics claim, threatens to undermine their push for Championship football.
Danny Wilson’s side enter the meeting with Town fifth in the League One table but having failed to win in front of their own supporters since goals from Barry Robson, Kevin McDonald and Dave Kitson put Colchester to the sword nearly two months ago.
That frustrating sequence of results has prompted suggestions United prefer life on the road but Collins continued: “For me, playing at home is excellent. How could you not enjoy playing at Bramall Lane?
“I wouldn’t swap that for playing in front of two thousand fans in a small stadium where people actually weren’t that bothered if you won or lost.
“But it’s not the size of the club or support that counts. Because, if it was, then we’d have gone up last year.
“Instead, it’s down to the team on the pitch.”
“Here, though, you do need a strong mentality because of everything that comes with being a United player,” Collins added. “You don’t hear Manchester United moan about playing games at Old Trafford do you even though that’s the first match everyone else in the Premier League probably looks for.
“You’ve got to be strong psychologically. Enjoy everything that comes with being here because the moment you aren’t at a big club anymore and come to grounds like this one you wish you were back.”
Collins, a member of the United squad which reached the play-off final last term, feels teenagers Callum McFadzean and Joe Ironside are made of the right stuff having tipped them to enjoy influential roles during the remaining six fixtures of the campaign.
Chris Porter’s return to form - the striker scored United’s equaliser at Walsall last weekend - also drew praise from the notoriously exacting Scot.
“Ports is a good lad who gets on with everyone,” Collins said. “If he can pop-up with some important goals then it’s going to help everyone. Him and the club.”
“Was it a satisfying point at Walsall? No it wasn’t,” continued Collins. “I honestly thought that when we got back level that we’d go on to win.
“We’ve had far too many draws this season and that was another. It wasn’t just the manager who was angry at half-time. We all were.”
Town are 12th following their stalemate with MK Dons but Collins warned: “They might not be the most glamorous name but we can’t under-estimate them. They are well-organised and play a good brand of football.
“I’m not a believer in teams having something to play for or not because when you’re professional every game is important.”