Paul Heckingbottom hopes Sheffield United's Premier League farewell is a still a celebration
Paul Heckingbottom says he hopes this weekend’s match against Burnley will be a celebration of everything Sheffield United have achieved over the past two seasons, despite the fact it marks the end of their stay in the Premier League.
Speaking ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Sean Dyche’s side, which marks to return of supporters to Bramall Lane following a 15 month absence, Heckingbottom acknowledged that being relegated from the the top-flight has been a painful experience for everyone associated with the club, combined with the departure of two-time promotion winner Chris Wilder
Placed in temporary charge when Wilder left his position in March - less than five years after inheriting a squad which had just finished mid-table in League One - Heckingbottom insisted the occasion also represented a chance to pay tribute to a group of players who were challenging for Europe last term before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic robbed them of momentum.
“I hope it’s a celebration and, if it isn’t, then I think everyone, both the fans and the club, has missed a trick,” Heckingbottom said. “Yes, nobody wanted this season to go the way it has. It’s been a really difficult experience.
“But the journey this club has been on, well, it’s been incredible when you think about it. You can’t always be on the up all the time in football and hopefully this is just a blip for us.
"It’s the end of one era, one brilliant and amazing era. Now we have got to try and make sure that it’s the start of another one.”
“I think it’s a shame that, if the fans had been in this time last year, it would have been a celebration because the players eventually came ninth,” he added. “Now, when they can come back, it’s after a relegation. But there’s so much that has happened, including Chris’ leaving to process and recognise too. So I hope that happens and that the players get a great reception, because personally I think they deserve it.
"They’ve done so much and many of them have been on the journey right the way through. Personally, I’d love to see that getting noted and recognised, rather than just what has happened lately. I think that would only be right because, as I say, there is still so much to celebrate about what they’ve achieved.”
With United recently adding Slavisa Jokanovic’s name to what is now a six man shortlist of candidates viewed as potential replacements for Wilder, Heckingbottom again refused to be drawn on whether he could be handed the task of leading United out of the Championship at the first attempt.
But he did speak openly about how social distancing measures, imposed at the height of the global health crisis, had proven a bigger handicap for United than other more established PL clubs.
“I always remember a game against Manchester City I was at earlier this season, when Oli McBurnie flattened Rubsen Dias right at the start,” he said. “If there had been people in here, the place would have gone right up. Instead, there was a squeal from Dias and a yellow card for Oli.”