Paul Heckingbottom identifies the big problem Sheffield United are facing right now
Paul Heckingbottom, Sheffield United’s caretaker manager, has admitted imbalances in the club’s first team squad are handicapping attempts to organise an orderly exit from the Premier League.
Having lost all but six of their 30 outings in the competition so far this season, United enter Sunday’s game against Arsenal low on points, low on confidence and even lower in terms of options in key two key areas of the pitch thanks to a spate of selection issues.
Although injuries have undoubtedly been a factor behind their poor results since finishing ninth in the table last term, failing to address a number of long-problems over the course of the past two transfer windows has accentuated the problems Heckingbottom inherited from Chris Wilder, following the 53-year-old’s departure four weeks ago. They include a lack of cover and options at centre-half for Jack O’Connell and John Egan - who despite returning to action at Leeds last weekend, was unable to play 90 minutes - and a top heavy attack.
“We know we are short in key areas, but we have a lot of options up front,” said Heckingbottom, who even with captain Billy Sharp ruled-out still has five strikers to choose from. “We don’t have so many at the back.”
Despite handing Iliman Ndiaye his senior debut during last month’s defeat by Leicester City, United are facing calls to draw more heavily upon their Steelphalt Academy and development programme between now and the end of the campaign; particularly with John Lundstram now looking a pale shadow of the player who took the division by storm following United’s promotion from the Championship two years ago. Lundstram’s refusal to extend his contract before it expires in June, coupled with his lacklustre displays in recent months, have angered supporters still waiting to discover who will replace Wilder at the helm.
With Sander Berge still short of fitness following surgery to repair a serious hamstring complaint, Heckingbottom must choose one of three courses of action - persevere with the Liverpudlian, change shape or draft-in a youngster.
“Sander isn’t ready,” Heckingbottom said. “He’s a couple of weeks away from training.”