Paul Heckingbottom concerned Sheffield United fans will return to "a different game" when they're allowed back into Bramall Lane

Paul Heckingbottom says Sheffield United fans will return to a “different game” when they are finally allowed back into Bramall Lane later this month after 15 months away.

Tuesday, 11th May 2021, 11:50 am

Blades supporters have not watched their side live since March last year, when victory over Norwich continued their shock bid for an European place.

But since games were forced to be played behind closed doors because of the coronavirus pandemic, United have lost 34 of their 45 league matches and were officially relegated last month.

Prime minister Boris Johnson’s announcement yesterday means that a reduced capacity will be allowed into Bramall Lane for the final match of the current season, at home to Burnley.

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And despite acknowledging previously how important a day that will be, Heckingbottom is also worried that supporters will not recognise the game they return to after voicing concerns that referees have become less tolerant of physicality and aggression since games went behind closed doors.

“We need it. The whole of football needs it,” Heckingbottom said of fans’ return.

Sheffield United's interim manager Paul Heckingbottom (Photo by PETER POWELL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

“I’ve been moaning about the way the game is officiating now and what we’re promoting, and I also think not having fans in grounds have had a big impact on that because there’s no atmosphere for the referees to feed off.

“Fans love tackles but they’re foing to come back to a game that’s totally different to what they left 15 months ago, and that’s going to be a strange thing and a sad thing.

“But that’s the way the game’s going.”