Ismaila Coulibaly told what he must do to grasp his big Sheffield United moment

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Ismaila Coulibaly’s performance on his full debut for Sheffield United should serve as a reminder why it is so important to hand players opportunities to impress on the first team stage rather than simply observe them during training, manager Paul Heckingbottom has claimed.

The Malian midfielder hopes to make his fourth appearance of the season when Swansea City visit Bramall Lane tomorrow, after impressing during Tuesday night’s FA Cup win over Wrexham.

Coulibaly’s start against Phil Parkinson’s side came three years after he joined United from Norwegian club Sarpsborg, before being immediately dispatched on loan to Belgian outfit Beerschot.

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“There’s been a lot of work carried out with Ismaila,” said Heckingbottom. “But if you don’t give these lads the chance then you are always wondering. Possibly, you are also being unfair on them because you can’t show everything you’ve got in training and you’d be asking them to try and do that.”

Sheffield United's Ismaila Coulibaly in action against Wrexham: Michael Regan/Getty ImagesSheffield United's Ismaila Coulibaly in action against Wrexham: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Sheffield United's Ismaila Coulibaly in action against Wrexham: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Coulibaly, aged 22, was recalled from Antwerp last summer following the Belgians’ relegation from their country’s top-flight. Revealing the youngster has noticed a difference in standards since arriving in England - “He knows there has been a jump, he’s noticed that” - Heckingbottom outlined the improvements Coulibaly must now make in order to become a regular member of his first choice eleven.

Confirming assistant manager Stuart McCall has been working closely with him, Heckingbottom said: “Stuart does a lot with all the midfielders because he was one himself. With Ismaila, it’s his role without the ball and what he does with it when he’s on it. We know he can see a pass, that’s not in doubt. Now we want to see that reliability with him. We’ll push him on everything.”

As well as Coulibaly performed against Wrexham, Heckingbottom and his coaching staff will be aware that display came against National League opposition who frequently bypassed the central areas of the pitch. However, should he feature this weekend, another creditable shift would give Heckingbottom serious food for thought as he attempts to steer United back into the Premier League.

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With 17 fixtures of the season remaining, they are second in the Championship table and 10 points clear of third placed Middlesbrough, who travel to South Yorkshire on Wednesday.

Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom: Nathan Stirk/Getty ImagesSheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images
Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

“Ismaila, he’s had to work really hard,” Heckingbottom said. “He’s pleased to be here and he knows it's down to him. Some of the games have been like rugby matches this year, with how they’ve been refereed. That’s something he’s also had to get used to.”

With his contract set to expire at the end of the campaign, Coulibaly will be determined to build upon the progress he has made since recovering from the injury he suffered soon after leaving Beerschot.

“For a lot of lads coming into this competition, that, the physical side of things, is always going to be a big eye opener for them,” Heckingbottom said. “But I know the Wrexham game has really whetted his appetite and that’s great to see. He really wants to improve and kick-on.”