SUCCESSIVE wins keep Sheffield United’s slim hopes of avoiding the drop alive - but even if they are relegated, ex-boss Dave Bassett is predicting a bright future, writes Alan Biggs.
As a week of youthful promise lifts some of the gloom around Bramall Lane, the Blades’ legendary former boss today shines more light into the future by expressing confidence in a quick turnaround in fortunes.
And the most optimistic sign of all is that, after two stirring victories, a miraculous escape from the drop still cannot be ruled out.
Just when United’s Championship lifeblood looked to have drained away, Micky Adams’ freshened-up side has produced pulsating performances against Bristol City and Reading.
The task remains highly improbable but it can no longer be rated impossible; certainly no more unlikely than Monday’s fightback from two goals down to win away to in-form promotion-chasers Reading.
It could all go to the final match if Adams’ men - and boys - can reel off a third successive victory in Saturday’s Lane derby with Barnsley.
But Bassett, brought in as consultant by the Blades’ boss at a time when he was still without a win, is confident in the club’s recovery prospects whatever the outcome.
He sees similarities with the early events of his own reign when, after initially failing to prevent a slide out of the same level in 1988, he responded immediately by inspiring two successive promotions.
Bassett, who is likely to remain as adviser if Adams’ survival is confirmed, told the Telegraph: “Sheffield United is a big club which can come straight back. There’s no reason why the club can’t be picking itself up and getting back into the Championship.
“In situations like this, you have to get a momentum going and what the club needs is a period of stability. You have to stop thinking you are bigger and more important than you are - and start getting the best out of everybody.
“Hopefully, with the young players coming through and bit of experience around them, United can fancy themselves to have a decent go next season.”
Maybe the momentum Bassett refers to has already started. Those wins and the manner of them has created a mood swing that stands to eliminate the kind of morgue-like atmosphere that must have been dreaded on Saturday.
Certainly, too, the uplift must have boosted Adams’ hopes of being given the nod to continue amid speculation that academy boss John Pemberton could be promoted in his place.
Another pointer to the justification for keeping Adams is that four of the bottom five clubs can all now attest to the perils of managerial upheaval.
Scunthorpe, practically doomed, have had three managers this season with Ian Baraclough and Alan Knill following Nigel Adkins. Already relegated Preston have had two (Darren Ferguson and Phil Brown), as have Crystal Palace (George Burley and Dougie Freedman).
United, of course, have had four including the caretaker spell of John Carver. And it’s fair to conclude the rot set in well before the mid-season arrival of Adams. Granted, he was hired to stop it and managers have been sacked for a lot less. Yet you can understand why he would be extremely disappointed if he paid the price for what has been a gradual and predictable decline. The Pemberton link was natural and logical considering his success in taking United’s youngsters - Harry Maguire and Jordan Slew among them - to the final of the FA Youth Cup.
The former United right back had a similar impact with a young reserve side at Nottingham Forest ahead of a successful temporary stint in charge of the first-team before the arrival of Billy Davies. And Pemberton helped Paul Hart keep Palace in the Championship last season.
He is ripe for a step-up at some stage. On the other hand, United have to consider whether it is a job for an inexperienced manager after their dalliance with Gary Speed - and whether Pemberton is more valuable continuing his work at the feeder end of the club.
That’s why, with Bassett’s influential backing, I still believe Adams is in with a good shout. Saturday could have a bearing, too.
Simply, United must win both remaining games and hope either Crystal Palace or Doncaster lose both theirs. Then there is an inferior goal difference to make up - nine on Crystal Palace, eight on Doncaster.
But that is not entirely insurmountable. If either result sequence pans out, the difference would naturally shrink. United will give it their best shot by looking to put a few past Barnsley and then hoping to squeak out another shock at Swansea on the last day.
Looking at the other fixtures, it could yet go to the wire. Although Barnsley and the Blades have not exactly been the best of enemies in recent times and Mark Robins’ side will be motivated by derby pride, another United win would hardly be a surprise. And neither would a Palace defeat at Hull or another slip by Doncaster at home to Leicester.