Sheffield United: Being brave is the key to promotion, as boss makes admission about mistakes

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Sheffield United’s players have been presented with a key demand ahead of their return to Championship action, as Paul Heckingbottom looks to strengthen his squad’s grip on an automatic promotion place.

Saturday’s meeting with Stoke City is expected to pose a tougher test of United’s top two credentials than the table would suggest, with the visitors’ manager Alex Neil already causing them a number of problems so far this term. But as he prepares to lock horns with a rival who guided City to victory when the two teams met at the bet365 Stadium in October, Heckingbottom has identified why his men struggled to reach their usual high-standards during their last outing in the competition - a draw at Queens Park Rangers.

“We’re at our best when we’re brave on the ball,” he said. “There, we weren’t brave enough on the ball to begin with.

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“We’re noticing that teams are setting up to try and stop us. So that means we’ve got to be even braver and try to take the ball, use it well.”

In order to hammer home his message, Heckingbottom added: “If that sometimes means not making the pass or trying something that doesn’t come off, then so be it. I’m not going to criticise anyone for doing that, for trying something.”

With United unbeaten in seven outings, six of which have resulted in victories, Heckingbottom accepts it is inevitable opponents will begin adopting disruptive tactics during the meetings with his team. Neil has enjoyed probably more success against Heckingbottom than any other rival in the division, with Sunderland also impressing during a trip to Bramall Lane earlier this season. Neil swapped Staffordshire for Wearside soon after, and described his former club as “brilliant” that night; troubling United, who prevailed courtesy of goals from Anel Ahmedhodzic and Max Lowe, despite being reduced to 10 men.

Ahmedhodzic is expected to start this weekend, while Lowe could return to action after being troubled by a side-strain sustained soon after his recovery from a hamstring injury.

“There’s an energy about the lads when they’re at their best,” Heckingbottom said. “When they’re being brave on the ball, it suits them with the skill sets they’ve got.”