But, make no mistake about it, Paul Heckingbottom is hacked-off. Annoyed by the injustices he feels United have suffered over the festive period and furious, maybe even apoplectic, about both the number of postponements they have been forced to contend with and the manner in which some of those have come about.
Sunday’s third round contest at Molineux, which pits his team against the eighth best side in the country according to the Premier League rankings, represents an opportunity for the United manager to restore a sense of normality to a season in danger of descending into farce. If whispers behind the scenes at Bramall Lane are to be believed, rival clubs have been deliberately swerving matches against them because of his squad’s recent form. The trip to the Midlands is a chance to get back to doing what United do best: Football, pure and simple. Not trying to make sense of rules which, for some unfathomable reason, have yet to be fully explained.
“We’d have trained differently if we’d have known, and that would have put us in a better position,” Heckingbottom said. “Some teams, like us, are going to be handicapped because of the load at the end. But we’ll try and use it to our advantage and we just want to get back our there.”
Momentum, or rather the sight of it being stripped from a group of players who had won four times in a row before seeing fixtures against Preston North End, Hull City and Middlesbrough rearranged when the opposition told the EFL that positive tests for Covid-19 meant they did not have enough senior professionals available for them to proceed as scheduled, is the source of Heckingbottom’s frustration. A meeting with Queens Park Rangers, set to take place before December 20th’s victory over Fulham, also fell victim to the ‘pingdemic’.
But the sight of their calendar descending into chaos threatens to have implications for United during this month’s transfer window too. Competing with the likes of Rangers, Nottingham Forest and Stoke City for Heart of Midlothian defender John Souttar, having already seen James Hill join leaders AFC Bournemouth because of their “direction of travel”, United are desperate to show potential targets they can return to the Premier League at the first time of asking. But the Championship rankings, save for the top three places, now mean little. Heckingbottom’s men sit in 13th position. But, eight points behind sixth placed Huddersfield Town, they have played four games fewer than their Yorkshire rivals. It means money, something for various reasons United clearly don’t possess in abundance, becomes even more important when attempting to attract fresh talent.
“Yes, I know where you’re coming from,” Heckingbottom said, acknowledging he believes that could be an issue. “Because I believe we’re in a position right now that’s false. You look at it (the table) and we’ve got so many games in hand on some people. But it is what it is. I’m not going to cry about it.”