Sheffield United: Blackout imposed for play-off deciding clash against Fulham
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Fifth in the table with one match remaining, United know a victory over Saturday’s visitors from west London will guarantee them a shot at promotion from the Championship.
Two points ahead of seventh-placed Middlesbrough and three in front of Millwall in eight, Heckingbottom knows United could also qualify even if they fail to beat Marco Silva’s title-winning side.
Although he has asked one member of his backroom staff to keep abreast of the scores at Preston North End and AFC Bournemouth, where their rivals for a top six finish are preparing to travel, Heckingbottom has confirmed he only plans to ask for updates if they are absolutely necessary.
“There are so many scenarios that could happen,” he said. “We know how we want to approach it and that is taking care of it ourselves.
“One person will know. No one on the bench will know what is happening. But we will have one person to keep us informed as to where we stand in that killer moment. If a different result is needed in the last few minutes, then that might change. Then, yes, of course I’d ask.”
Despite his approach, Heckingbottom conceded what could be a sell-out crowd at Bramall Lane will “almost certainly” betray events in Lancashire and Dorset should United’s meeting with opponents he acknowledged “deserved” to be crowned champions not go according to plan.
Defender George Baldock is expected to be available for selection after recovering from injury. But midfielder Conor Hourihane, on loan from Aston Villa, is a doubt after sustaining a knock towards the end of last week’s triumph at Queens Park Rangers. The Republic of Ireland international, who scored one of United’s three goals after Charlie Austin had fired the hosts’ in front, has confirmed he would be “open” to the prospect of remaining in South Yorkshire when his contract with his parent club expires this summer.
The team news
Intriguingly, Heckingbottom also suggested during his latest media briefing that Morgan Gibbs-White is also in danger of missing out due to an unspecified fitness issue. Losing Gibbs-White would deal a major blow to United’s hopes of beating Silva’s men. However the 44-year-old, who volunteered the information on Gibbs-White’s fitness without being pressed, did predict he would resume training tomorrow.
“Conor and Morgan have knocks, we’ll be looking to get them on the grass though,” Heckingbottom said. “Conor and Morgan, if it had been a quick turnaround, they would have been in doubt. But they’ve got time. George has trained so that’s good news. Other than the ones we already know are definitely going to be out, there’s no one else (who has a problem).”
Sixteenth when Heckingbottom was appointed in November, United have forced themselves into contention for an immediate return to the PL despite losing a number of key performers in recent months. Rhian Brewster, Jayden Bogle, Oli McBurnie and David McGoldrick are all out of action until later this summer while captain Billy Sharp tore a calf muscle in training before the trip to Loftus Road.