Sheffield United: Frustrated boss insists his team have effectively been punished for doing the right thing during the latest Covid-19 wave

Paul Heckingbottom has labelled the number of postponements Sheffield United were forced to endure over Christmas and New Year as “a joke”, claiming his players now find themselves at a professional disadvantage for doing everything within their power to protect against Covid-19.

Friday, 21st January 2022, 5:00 am

Speaking as United prepare to contest a match at Bramall Lane for the first time in nearly two months, Heckingbottom insisted he “knows” other Championship clubs who did not take the necessary precautions to prevent outbreaks of the coronavirus among their squads.

But what sticks in Heckingbottom’s craw is the fact he believes they - not United - are now better equipped to avoid the injuries and illnesses which could influence how the race for promotion unfolds.

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Sheffield United were in fine form after beating Fulham in west London before Christmas: David Klein / Sportimage

Drawing a link between the number of muscle injuries United are experiencing ahead of tomorrow’s match against Luton Town and their schedule over the past few weeks, Heckingbottom told The Star: “It was a joke. I know for a fact we were putting everything in place to try and combat Covid and the new outbreak. We changed meeting rooms, we got better ventilation, we travelled on two coaches and changed the seating arrangements.

“I know of plenty of clubs who didn’t do all that. They had big outbreaks and got through it. In terms of getting an advantage, although I would never ever advocate this, we’d have been better off all just huddling together and getting over it. There’s no way we can be handicapped for doing the right thing.”

Despite stressing he was talking about behaviour across the division in general rather than referring specifically to QPR, Preston North End, Hull City and Middlesbrough - who were all granted postponements against United during the festive period - Heckingbottom clearly believes the effect upon the fixture calendar would not have been as great if everyone had followed the correct protocols during the most recent wave of the pandemic.

Paul Heckingbottom believes his Sheffield United players were effectively punished for doing the right thing over the festive period: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

The meeting with Town is only United’s third outing in the competition since they beat leaders Fulham on December 20. That result, which followed an away victory at Cardiff City and one on home soil over Bristol City more than seven weeks ago, meant United should have entered their Boxing Day clash at Deepdale searching for a fourth straight win under Heckingbottom. Instead they travelled there on Tuesday, being held to a 2-2 draw by opponents reduced to 10 men after losing to Derby County 72 hours earlier.

“Where we got let down or handicapped, is because they (the postponements) were all last minute,” Heckingbottom continued. “We had such an extended period where that was happening.

“In hindsight, the workload we were doing would have been much heavier. Generally, muscle injuries come when the training loads drop. Then, after such a long time out, we came straight back in against a Premier League team (Wolves) in the FA Cup which was a big step up.”

Sheffield United were forced to endure an extended and unwelcome break after beating Fulham at Craven Cottage last month: Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Insisting United have no other choice but “to get on with it”, Heckingbottom suggested he has still made his frustration known to the English Football League.

Oli McBurnie, Enda Stevens and John Egan and the manager himself are among those at United forced to isolate in recent weeks.

“We were expecting these little niggles,” Heckingbottom said, reminding he has never asked for a game to be rescheduled.