Paul Heckingbottom reveals his demand for Sheffield United's players, starting with Leeds United clash
Paul Heckingbottom, the Sheffield United manager, wants his players to play with a “freedom” between now and the end of the season after admitting he won’t criticise players for losing the ball – only if they don’t show the courage to get on it in the first place.
The first of United’s nine remaining games this season sees them make the short trip to Elland Road on Saturday, to face Yorkshire rivals – and Heckingbottom’s former employers – Leeds United.
The Blades will travel up the M1 bottom of the Premier League table and, as things stand, are 14 points behind fourth-bottom Newcastle United.
Sheffield United face anxious wait to assess other international stars after Enda Stevens' injury - but could be boosted by Chris Basham return
And Heckingbottom, who assumed temporary charge of United following Chris Wilder’s departure earlier this month, wants his side to build on an impressive second-half display away at Chelsea in their last outing before the international break.
“We have to,” he said. “Play with a freedom and a spirit and take the shackles off.
“I’ve told the players that I’m not going to criticise anyone for giving the ball away. We might ask for more and demand more quality, but I’m not going to criticise anyone for giving it away.
“The problems come when people don’t demand the ball in the first place.
“I’ve been clear with them on that: if you don’t demand the ball and get on it you won’t make the team better and those who don’t do that won’t be in the team.”
United will assess full-back Enda Stevens ahead of the game against Leeds, after he missed the Republic of Ireland’s clash with Qatar in Hungary.