Boss reminds Sheffield United that pound notes mean nothing when fight for points begins at Fulham

Paul Heckingbottom has reminded his Sheffield United side that salaries and budgets count for nothing when games kick-off, as his side prepare for their toughest game of the season so far at the home of league leaders Fulham.

Tuesday, 14th December 2021, 4:50 pm

Marco Silva’s men are making a good fist of their attempted return to the Premier League following relegation last season, sitting five points clear of third-placed West Bromwich Albion with the season not even at the halfway mark.

The Blades, who also came down from the top-flight last season, missed the chance to improve on their 13th-place position when their home clash with Queens Park Rangers was postponed over the weekend.

Instead, attentions at their Shirecliffe training base have turned towards Fulham – and how to nullify their impressive attacking threats of Aleksandar Mitrović and Harry Wilson, who between them have scored the same number of goals as the Blades so far this season.

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But Heckingbottom, who has prior Championship experience from stints in charge of Barnsley and Leeds United, is a firm believer that any second-tier side can beat another on any given day.

“The division had a shake-up this year but there’s lots of reasons it is like it is,” Heckingbottom said.

“It’s very tight but the difference between top and bottom in terms of salaries and things like that is vast and huge.

Paul Heckingbottom, the Sheffield United manager: Ashley Crowden / Sportimage

“But it’s funny that, despite all those discrepancies and variations and differences in clubs, it’s generally so, so tight when it comes to Saturday afternoons.

“The fact that the Premier League is at the end of it, that just makes it that much more intense. There are lots of good players in this league, all chasing that next step, and a good mentality and good team spirit can overcome a good wage bill.

“There are lots of reasons why it’s so tight, and every one of those reasons I’ve said is why it’s exciting.”

Monday’s meeting between two of the pre-season favourites to be promoted back to the Premier League was earmarked as one to watch, but United did not expect to make the trip to Craven Cottage 12 places adrift of the Londoners in the Championship standings.

The fact that they will – unless the gap increases further when clubs below them play over the weekend – owes more to their below-par start to the current season. Under the permanent charge of Heckingbottom, who replaced former Fulham chief Slavisa Jokanović last month, United have won both their league games.

The extended gap between his side’s games – United won’t have played for over a fortnight when they step out at Craven Cottage on Monday evening – will give Heckingbottom extra time to get some of his injured players back on the road to recovery, and also work with his squad at their Shirecliffe training base.

To get a positive result at Fulham, they must surely nullify the threat that Mitrović poses. The Serbian striker has scored 22 goals in 21 games for his club this season, and that ratio is 25 in 26 when games for his country are taken into account.

After a drought of two games without a goal, he scored Fulham’s opener at the weekend as they drew 1-1 at Luton Town – their fourth successive stalemate.