STAND-in skipper Matt Tootle wants defensive improvement ahead of Crewe’s crunch clash against Sheffield United.

With both clubs battling to beat the drop, that old cliché of a six-pointer at Gresty Road rings true.

And one of the best performers of a tough season so far insists they must sort it out at set pieces.

“People must look at the league table and say we’ve got the worst back four in the country,” explained Tootle.

“The goal we conceded at Tranmere (1-0) was the 20th out of 54 that have been from set-pieces.

“That’s been our downfall and we need to sort it out.

“We work on it in training but we have to start taking it into matches.

“It’s hard to live with that record.

“I feel like I’ve probably had my best season on a personal note but people who don’t watch us will judge all of us on how many we’ve conceded.

“We’ve got to try and keep our confidence high and to do that, we’ve got to get better at defending set-plays for 90 minutes.

“We really need to step on the gas now and this is a massive second half to the season.

“We need to get a good run going to give ourselves a strong chance of finishing it as a League One club.”

The 23-year-old is likely to retain the armband against the Blades with George Evans expected to keep out club captain Abdul Osman.

“I’ve been here a long time and I’ve always looked up to everyone who has been captain,” added Tootle.

“It actually distracted me for the first 10 minutes because I was thinking I should be doing something extra but I settled down.

“I’ve always tried to lead and encourage anyway.

“Abdul is club captain and I’m sure he’ll be back in the team soon but I’ll keep trying to help and take responsibility.”

Tuesday night’s postponed clash against Stevenage gave Harry Davis extra time to get over a swollen knee.

Mathias Pogba and Uche Ikpeazu are both pressing for starts while Alan Martin’s departure means boss Steve Davis will tie up a loan move for a keeper.

Fulham’s Neil Etheridge remains in the frame and could be involved on Saturday.

“We have got to be on it every week,” said Davis.

“Every game is important and the sooner players realise that is the situation, the better.”