Chris Wilder defended Sheffield United’s poor start to the season and insisted his side showed glimpses of being back to their old selves in their 1-1 draw with Fulham.
The Blades boss admitted his team, who finished a hugely creditable ninth on their return to the Premier League last season, are short of confidence after beginning the campaign with four straight defeats.
But he defiantly predicted the Blades will rally and fight their way out of early-season trouble.
The Cottagers arrived at Bramall Lane with the same record and both sides are now at least off the mark following Sunday’s 1-1 draw.
Wilder’s men dominated the first half but were made to pay for failing to take their chances when Ademola Lookman put Fulham in front after 77 minutes.
The goal came 20 minutes after Aleksandar Mitrovic had missed a penalty for the visitors, and it would be a spot-kick at the other end, converted by substitute Billy Sharp five minutes from time, that saw the points shared.
“I’ve said all along this is a tough sport, a tough division, ” said Wilder. “There’s no free hits or easy games where you can say, ‘we’ll get our confidence back in this game’.
“It’s a struggle at the minute and you can see that. It’s tough and it’s tough to watch at times. But we are a really tight group and we will stick together and fight our way out of it.
“It’s natural what is happening after what has been a difficult start for us. If it was easy, everyone would do it. But not everyone can do it. These players have to perform if they want to establish themselves as Premier League players.
“It’s five games without a win, yes, however you want to dress it up. But this is an extremely competitive league, an extremely difficult league to even survive in. We’ve done well to even get into this division – way ahead of time by the way.
“Five without a win doesn’t sit well with us but no one should be embarrassed about it. Some teams pay £400million to keep the ball out of their net, and some teams pay £300million to put the ball in the net.
“I thought in the first half we were back around where we know we can be, but in the second half we looked anxious and lost control of the game. We made mistakes which led to other mistakes and let Fulham back into it.
“It was a game of two halves, we were the better side in the first half but Fulham were the better team in the second half. But to get a result when you’re 1-0 down with about 10 minutes to go, we’ll take it at this moment in time.”
Mitrovic’s afternoon got even worse after blazing his 57th-minute penalty into the stand, with the ball clipping the top of the crossbar. The Serb then gave away the spot-kick which brought the equalising goal, fouling Jack Robinson, before missing three golden chances late on to win the match for his team.
Cottagers boss Scott Parker said: “I think Alex would be the first to admit he has had a tough day. He’s scored plenty of penalties before and he’s missed two other chances that on any other day he puts in the net.
“But in sport sometimes you have bad days. What will be telling is how he reacts and given the stature of the man I am positive he will respond in the right way.”
Parker had mixed emotions about the result, adding: “I think overall we are a bit disappointed, of course, to be that close to three points and only coming away with one.
“To get in front with about 10 minutes to go, you want to se the game out, and we had chances to go further ahead and see it out even more. But Sheffield did also create a lot of chances.
“It was not meant to be today but there are some positives to take away from the game.”
Fulham owner Tony Khan agreed, taking to Twitter after the match to say: “Thank you to all Fulham supporters worldwide, and thank you to our squad and staff for their hard work to earn a point in our 1-1 draw today.
“I’m proud of everyone at the club for working to prepare through a quick restart, and believe we can build on today’s work! Come on Fulham!”
Khan had previously Tweeted following the 3-0 defeat at Aston Villa in September apologising for Fulham’s performance – something that Parker said had “disappointed” him.