Intensity, shape, subs ... How Paul Heckingbottom changed Sheffield United's approach after taking over

It was a dream start to life as Sheffield United’s new permanent boss for Paul Heckingbottom, as his side beat Bristol City 2-0 in his first game in charge after succeeding Slavisa Jokanović at Bramall Lane.

Monday, 29th November 2021, 5:30 pm

The Serb was sacked last week after United’s chief executive Stephen Bettis acknowledged disappointment in the Blades’ results under his charge, before insisting that Heckingbottom would not be judged on the outcome of games during his time in charge.

Goals from Rhian Brewster and Billy Sharp gave Heckingbottom a welcome three points in his first game in charge. But what were the notable differences under him?


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From the word go, United seemed to have more of it and Heckingbottom could be heard from the sidelines urging Chris Basham to drive forward with the ball from right centre-half.

There was less of the pointless passing across the defence that we saw too often during Jokanović’s reign, with Ben Davies in particular getting the ball forward with more purpose and setting Enda Stevens free with one quality pass.

Stevens and right wing-back Jayden Bogle were freed up to get forward, and almost combined to good effect when Stevens crossed and Bogle headed just wide.

David McGoldrick and Chris Basham of Sheffield United enjoy the win over Bristol City: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

Team selection

Just the one change from Jokanović’s last match in charge on Tuesday night, away at Reading, and even that one was enforced with Conor Hourihane replacing John Fleck.

In fairness, United won that game and one of the oldest clichés in football is to not change a winning team. But Heckingbottom stuck with the side that had brought back three points from Berkshire, with Billy Sharp once again on the bench – before the skipper came on to score the Blades’ second.

Sheffield United beat Bristol City 1-0 at a snowy Bramall Lane: Simon Bellis / Sportimage


United again lined up with a back three but while David McGoldrick was wedded to the touchline for large parts of the game at Reading, leaving Rhian Brewster a little isolated as essentially a lone striker, he was much more involved against City.

And that approach paid dividends for the Blades’ second, when he dribbled the width of the pitch before laying the ball off, continuing his run and then picking out Sharp’s clever movement in the middle with a clever cross.

Morgan Gibbs-White also seemed to play a slightly more advanced role, which is bad news for any defence that United will come up against this season.


Even at 1-0 ahead, in the dying stages of the game, United were streaming forward in search of a second and leaving themselves a little exposed going the other way.

Indeed, City should have done far better with a counter-attack that essentially saw them have two men bearing down on Wes Foderingham at one point, before Davies got back to nick the ball away.

But that, as Heckingbottom outlined, is how United will approach their work; with intensity and energy, and without any fear.

There will be times it means they come unstuck. But if all goes to plan, it certainly will not be boring.

Stick to the script

During his time as caretaker boss Heckingbottom showed he wasn’t one to make changes for the sake of it and two of his three against City were enforced because of injury, the other seeing Ben Osborn replace the tiring Hourihane in the 100th minute.