Paul Heckingbottom appears to admit he is preparing to hand over the reins at Sheffield United's search for a new manager draws to a close
Paul Heckingbottom appeared to confirm Sunday’s match against Burnley will be his final game in charge of Sheffield United, as the club prepares to finalise its search for Chris Wilder’s permanent replacement.
Heckingbottom, who was handed the reins on an interim basis when the 53-year-old left Bramall Lane in March, admitted he had “enjoyed his time” at the helm before acknowledging “the new manager” will have learnt a lot from United’s recent outings - including last night’s 1-0 defeat at Newcastle.
With Slavisa Jokanovic, previously of Watford and Fulham, among those hoping to be handed the challenge of leading United out of the Championship last term after their relegation from the Premier League was confirmed nearly five weeks ago, Heckingbottom said: “The new guy will have taken a lot away from that, because he’ll have been watching, and also our last few games.
“He’ll know we’re a hard working group and he’ll know that we’ve got strength in depth, because there are so many quality players out.
“They’ll be looking at that strength in depth, allied with the work rate and attitude of these boys, and thinking we’ve got a fantastic chance next season.”
“I’ve enjoyed it, I’ve enjoyed working with this group of players,” he added. “Because, whatever else, they give you everything.”
United, playing in front of fans for the first time since December following the relaxation of social distancing measures imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic, slipped to their 29th loss of the campaign when Joe Willock scored the only goal of the contest on the stroke of half-time.
Heckingbottom, who later handed teenager Femi Seriki his debut in an effort to engineer an equaliser, said: “It was brilliant to be out there in front of supporters again, even though they weren’t our own, so I can’t wait for Sunday. I can’t believe it’s been 15 months since we went behind closed doors, albeit with a week or so out, and it’s taken a lot out of people so hopefully it will be the last time.
“Even when we got to the hotel the night before, there were people in the bar and it just felt normal.
“Before the game, I had a coffee and was watching people come in. It just felt normal, or more normal and that was great.”
With George Baldock ruled out with a hamstring problem - albeit one he believes will heal in time for United’s final match of the season - Heckingbottom included four members of his under-23’s development squad on the bench at St James’ Park, with Seriki, who moved to South Yorkshire from Bury, introduced during the closing stages. Daniel Jebbison, who scored on his full PL debut at Everton last weekend, was again selected alongside David McGoldrick in attack.
“Femi has been involved in a lot of chances for us at that level, he’s direct and that’s why we brought him on, because we were looking for something at that stage,” Heckingbottom said. “He’s nowhere near the finished article but, if he continues to listen and learn, then he can be a good player for us - without a doubt.”