Sheffield United devise plan as boss faces touchline ban against Watford

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Sheffield United are devising a plan to ensure their decision-making during Saturday’s game against Watford is not adversely affected as Paul Heckingbottom prepares to serve a touchline ban.

After being charged with “improper and/or violent” conduct by the Football Association following last week’s defeat by Middlesbrough, the United manager is working on the assumption that he will be forced to watch the meeting with Slaven Bilic’s side from the stands.

Heckingbottom has 48 hours to provide his response to the events which saw him shown a red card by referee Andre Marriner after protesting about one of the goals Michael Carrick’s third placed team score en route to a 3-1 victory at Bramall Lane. Having admitted he was “wrong” to react they way he did, despite refusing to apologise for his frustration about the way some of the game’s laws are being implemented, Heckingbottom has privately told staff he does not expect to be in the technical area when Bilic’s men travel to South Yorkshire.

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That saw him summon assistant Stuart McCall and Jack Lester, United’s head of player development, to a meeting about how to deal with the situation before the FA confirmed details of his charge.

“We’ve spoken about it,” Heckingbottom told The Star. “Jack doesn’t reckon he’s the best person to do it - to stay in touch with me via the radio or whatever - but that’s probably because he doesn’t want me in his ear all the time.”

Although Heckingbottom believes match officials tend to only blow for free-kicks when a “player goes down” - something he believes “rewards bad behaviour, not the right behaviour” - he is set to plead guilty and “accept” whatever punishment “comes my way.” However, Heckingbottom is likely to use the written evidence he submits to the governing body to again shine a light on an issue he has spoken about frequently this term.

Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom is shown a red card against Middlesbrough: Andrew Yates / SportimageSheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom is shown a red card against Middlesbrough: Andrew Yates / Sportimage
Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom is shown a red card against Middlesbrough: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

“My frustration and anger is that we see that every game and I’m having conversations with referees all the time,” he said, reflecting upon the build-up to Cameron Archer’s second goal of the contest against United. “If Macca (James McAtee) goes down, we get a foul and the opponent gets booked. I just hate the way the game is going with that. We’re rewarding wrong behaviours. That was the reason for my reaction, and it’s cost me now.”

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With his team still second in the Championship table but now only four points ahead of Middlesbrough following last weekend’s loss at Millwall, Heckingbottom does not believe United’s squad will be impacted by his absence if the FA prohibited him from taking a seat in the dug-out when Watford make the journey north.

“I should still be able to get my thoughts across,” Heckingbottom said. “I’m going to be the one it hurts the most, because I don’t like being up there. I like to be in the middle of it, because that’s what suits me best and so it’s me that’s going to suffer. Probably no one else has given it much thought but I was the minute I knew I was going to miss one.”