Paul Heckingbottom sets a task for Sheffield United's medical team ahead of Saturday's Yorkshire derby against Leeds
Sheffield United’s medical staff have been asked to draw up a calendar predicting when every player they are treating is expected to return to action, after Paul Heckingbottom admitted the club’s lengthy casualty list is hampering his efforts to effect real change at Bramall Lane.
Placed in temporary charge until the end of the season following Chris Wilder’s departure earlier this month, Heckingbottom inherited a squad not only languishing at the bottom of the Premier League table but also savaged by injury - with the likes of Jack O’Connell, John Egan and Sander Berge among those ruled out.
Despite dismissing suggestions he should devise an entirely new tactical strategy, and explaining why, Heckingbottom has suggested United’s coaching staff are plotting a number of subtle alterations ahead of next weekend’s visit to Leeds
But he admitted that having their most influential performers available for selection is the thing most likely to improve the team’s fortunes between now and May.
“We just need players back,” Heckingbottom said. “That’s the biggest thing, the thing that’s going to make the biggest difference for us. I’m not saying anything dramatic here. I think it’s pretty obvious that anyone, even those clubs right at the top of the division, would find it difficult with so many out.”
“I’ve not asked for exact progress reports,” he continued. “All I’ve done is ask for dates when we can expect to have some of these players back out there on the pitch.
“There’s too many and too much information, in terms of the medical side of things. There’s nothing I can do there anyway, that’s in the hand of the people with the real expertise in that area.
“So I just want to deal with what I and the rest of us here can influence. That’s the football. So all I’ve asked for is a timescale on these players and that’s been drawn up. Hopefully we should get most of them back before the end.”
Previously in charge of United’s under-23’s - a role he is expected to return to when Wilder’s long-term successor is identified - Heckingbottom expects to call upon the services of several young players over the coming weeks. Iliman Ndiaye made his top-flight debut during the former Scarborough, Barnsley and Sheffield Wednesday defender’s first match in charge, a defeat at Leicester City, before joining Zak Brunt and Kyron Gordon on the bench during last weekend’s FA Cup quarter-final against Chelsea.
With Ndiaye impressing during Friday’s Development League win over Sheffield Wednesday, all three could feature prominently in United’s plans for the visit to Elland Road.
“The squad has been set up to play a certain way, and so it makes sense to base things around that, but there are a few adjustments we can make,” Heckingbottom said. “There’s things we can do within the structure we’ve been working to, which clearly does work when you look at the results its brought to the club over the past few years as a whole before the injuries which would cause problems for anyone.”