Sheffield United: Frustration and a warning as Blades struggle in transfer market with deadline looming

Four full days. Around 96 hours and counting. Well, depending on when you’re reading this.

Thursday, 27th January 2022, 5:43 pm

The transfer window slams shut next week and, providing Sheffield United are able to sign a centre-half, Paul Heckingbottom will be relieved.

Actually, make that very relieved. Only those managers who graduated from the Harry Redkanpp school of media enjoy talking about deals until they are signed, sealed and delivered to the English Football League.

“It’s difficult, because we don’t spend that much time together,” Heckingbottom said, during a brutally frank question and answer session with journalists today. “The difficulty is, it can take up all of your time and totally consume you because you’re trying to push people for answers and are constantly involved in meetings. That’s the problem with the window, because everyone is involved in it.”

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Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom (right) with head of player development Jack Lester (centre) and assistant Stuart McCall: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

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After completing a move for goalkeeper Adam Davies, bolstering his defence is now Heckingbottom’s top priority. Well, that and preparing for this weekend’s visit to Peterborough. Because if United win there it will make it much easier to sell them as an upwardly mobile club. One with a genuine chance of achieving promotion this season rather than simply a place where people simply dream about going up.

After confessing United’s search for a centre-half is still “nowhere” near being completed and describing Darren Ferguson’s side as a threat, Heckingbottom knows achieving both of those objectives will be difficult. But the latter - regaining the Premier League status United surrendered last term - could be a damn sight trickier if no cover is brought in at the heart of their rearguard before Monday’s deadline.

“By no means am I panicking, because we’ve got players here who are doing really well,” Heckingbottom continued, revealing youngster Kyron Gordon is also now training daily with the first team squad. “But the problem is, if we get two or three out with Covid-19 continuing to go around, then we don’t really have anyone there to come in.

Rhys Williams of Liverpool: Phil Noble - Pool/Getty Images

“We are in injury or an illness away from being in trouble. The problem is, we could end up getting ourselves into a really good position and it would be a crying shame if we weren’t able to make the most of it.”

Eight points outside the play-offs but with three games in hand on sixth-placed Huddersfield Town, United’s quest to find support for the likes of John Egan and Chris Basham is being complicated by a number of factors. Some of the targets identified by Bramall Lane’s recruitment department will only be allowed to depart if they are guaranteed a start. And of course Heckingbottom, reminding he wants “everyone to feel as if those have to be earned”, must also work within the financial parameters laid out by a board which is clearly feeling the pinch of the pandemic.

But another complication is the type of player Heckingbottom needs, given the way United operate. The names being put forward by Paul Mitchell and Jared Dublin must not only be capable of anchoring a back three but, depending upon where they might be required to slot in, also launch counter attacks as well. Very few people can tick both boxes. And those who can, such as Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams, are seldom available. Responding directly to a question about Phillips, Heckingbottom appeared to suggest the youngster would not be allowed to leave Liverpool although United are still trying to damndest to bring about a change of heart.

David McGoldrick of Sheffield United tussles with Nathaniel Phillips of Liverpool during a Premier League match at Bramall Lane: Andrew Yates/Sportimage

“We want someone who can defend and have the ability to go one on one,” Heckingbottom explained. “But we also want them to have the comfort on the ball to step in, say, at right centre-half and bring the ball out.

“We’ve had people like George (Baldock) and Enda (Stevens) who have filled in there before and who can do it. But they are also required for other positions and they might be needed there.”

Revealing United only had “16 outfield players” available for their penultimate training session ahead of the trip to London Road, Heckingbottom identified another reason why it would be beneficial to increase United’s numbers. One often overlooked by journalists and supporters but not coaching staff.

“We also want bodies to help us prepare for games properly. We will give opportunities to younger players, as we have shown and you have seen. But we don’t want to do that just because they are the next body in line. They also have to be good enough.

“Kyron has stayed with us since stepping in a while back. He is comfortable in the environment and we really like him. We really enjoy working with him.”

Despite speaking openly about the difficulties United are facing as they attempt to strengthen the options at his disposal, Heckingbottom is still hopeful he can bring one of the names put forward by Mitchell and Dublin to South Yorkshire.

“Every one of them is different,” Heckingbottom said, providing an insight into how managers operate on transfer deadline days. “I remember one, when I was at Barnsley, that fell on a full fixture evening and that was just strange. Far from ideal to be honest.

“If we’d have got everything done already, then we’d be turning our phones off that’s the sure. But obviously we hope they are going to ring now. We’re trying hard and we’re working really hard so now it’s a case of seeing if we can make something happen.”