Alan Biggs: Paul Heckingbottom's best chance of getting Sheffield United back up

Sheffield United have set a long haul route back to the top. For manager Paul Heckingbottom the road is short.

By Alan Biggs
Wednesday, 19th January 2022, 9:47 am
Updated Wednesday, 19th January 2022, 9:47 am
Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

While tasked with the future development of the club, I have no doubt the Blades boss sees the events of the next three to four months as the main chance.His main chance, too, as those fanciful pretensions at his unveiling that he won’t be judged on results remain as nonsensical now as when they were made.Which is why the last two matches - a defeat and a draw - will have been so frustrating. Five points dropped at Derby and Preston, but effectively make that six considering the Blades were 2-0 up against 10 men in the latter.No-one can under-estimate the importance of that or the immediate future. While there is any chance to go up this season, Heckingbottom and United simply have to take it.With an overhaul of the old guard looking inevitable in the summer whatever the outcome, the Blades are simply not set up under Prince Abdullah currently to buy a new team of similar pedigree.This is as good as it’s going to be, in terms of quality and experience, for the foreseeable future.So Hecky won’t be blinded into thinking that he can rebuild over a period, with the emphasis on promoting youth, and that his position won’t be impacted in the meantime.This is a club with two years in the Premier League only just behind it and where supporters cannot be expected to have the patience for a slow, painstaking recovery of such ambitions.Which is not to say the hierarchy’s blueprint is necessarily wrong. It is honest for a start. An admission that rather than buying their way back to the top, which can’t be afforded, they are focusing on an academy that has had a sensational output over the years.With so many clubs in peril over past excesses while chasing short-term dreams, it would not be a bad way for the whole Championship to go.And United are to be applauded for bringing in Aidy Boothroyd for this strategy and promoting Derek Geary. It may work over a period.But make no mistake, they are not the ones at the sharp end. Heckingbottom is that man and, with him, his hands-on management team of Stuart McCall and Jack Lester.It is on them that traditional results-based judgment will fall. Here I’ll make an early plea for patience on their behalf if the season folds. They will need it across redevelopment on the planned lines.In the meantime, they are correct to be demanding and expectant of this experienced group of players right now.They have handled those pressures in the past and, in many cases, this will represent their final glimpse of the top league.It is also Heckingbottom’s best foreseeable chance of getting the club back there.

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