The first leg of what appears to be a delicately poised Championship play-off semi-final, Heckingbottom admitted last night that he has made no attempt to try and disguise the significance of the occasion during training this week.
Although United’s team appears to be embracing the pressure of trying to win promotion - midfielder Morgan Gibbs-White yesterday claiming they are the “most feared” of the four clubs vying to reach the Premier League - Heckingbottom told The Star: “Sometimes, what gets in the way of a good performance is the situation, the occasion. You want to make sure that everyone is right on point and is okay with it, which from what I’ve seen they are.
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“But there might be an occasion when, to get someone in exactly the right place, you decide to pay them a compliment or give them a rollicking. Whatever it is that you know fires them up and gets them ready to go out there.”
The same journey
Relegated from the top-flight last term, United were 16th in the table when Heckingbottom took charge in November before eventually finishing fifth. One place above them in the final rankings, Forest’s campaign has followed a similar trajectory with Cooper leading them from bottom to fourth in the space of eight months.
With United set to visit the City Ground on Tuesday, Heckingbottom said: “We’ve always tried to be brave. We’ve always played that way.
“I don’t have a go at a player for giving the ball away. I do have a go at a player if they then don’t try and rectify the error by working as hard as they can to try and get the ball back. Because that’s bravery.
“Those are the things that we demand. Those are the things we want to drive us.”
The fitness situation
Having sustained no new injuries during last weekend’s clash with Fulham, Heckingbottom is expected to select from the same group which beat Marco Silva’s title-winners 4-0. George Baldock, whose fellow defender Chris Basham has agreed a two year contract extension, has taken part in full training this week but former Forest midfielder Ben Osborn could again get the nod after impressing at wing-back.
Billy Sharp, United’s captain and leading goalscorer, remains in the treatment room alongside Jayden Bogle, Rhian Brewster, David McGoldrick and Oli McBurnie although Heckingbottom did not completely rule out the possibility of him taking some part if they reach Wembley. Luton Town and Huddersfield Town meet in the opening instalment of their semi-final tonight.
“No one remembers who finished fifth,” Heckingbottom said. “So I haven’t reflected on the season, day by day and week by week, yes, because you want to keep improving. You just need big moments and big decisions.”
“Again, it's just about getting through,” he added. “Whatever happens we are taking that score into the final leg. Both teams will make sure they are in it going into the second leg. But we want to take advantage of course.”