Sheffield United have got big-game players too, Watford are warned

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He admits Watford have players capable of seizing “big moments” but, speaking ahead of tomorrow’s game against the visitors from Hertfordshire, Paul Heckingbottom has reminded that Sheffield United possess plenty of those too - footballers capable of producing pieces of skill so audacious, they change the course of a match within an instant.

With Joao Pedro, Ismaila Sarr and Ken Sema, who scored twice during Monday’s victory over West Bromwich Albion, both expected to face Heckingbottom’s men at Bramall Lane, Slaven Bilic claimed en route to South Yorkshire that his team boasts enough talent to beat any other in the division. That message was almost certainly designed to resonate with United, as the Croat attempts to expose any flaws in their psychological armoury following defeats to Millwall and before that third placed Middlesbrough.

But Heckingbottom, whose side remains second in the table albeit now only four points clear of their rivals from the North-East, responded by highlighting not only the technical ability of Iliman Ndiaye, James McAtee and others but also their ability to display that within a tactical framework.

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“We’ve been showing quality in big moments as well,” Heckingbottom told The Star. “We’ve got flair players. For me, and I’m only speaking about our ones, the great thing is show that and also work hard and show their strength without the ball as well. They know, if they don’t do that, then they’re either not going to be effective or they’re not going to play at all.”

“All of the players have their own different strengths and weaknesses,” he added. “That’s what makes up a team. The one thing they all have in common though is that desire to put a real shift in. Always.”

McAtee was on target during last weekend’s trip to The Den, with Ndiaye being introduced during the second-half after sustaining a knock when Middlesbrough faced United 72 hours earlier. Although the Senegal international took a “heavy tackle” towards the end of the encounter in south London, United expect him to start the meeting with Watford who are seventh. Ndiaye’s compatriot Sarr is set to be selected by Bilic after confirming his recovery from injury.

Iliman Ndiaye (right) prepares for Sheffield United's game against Watford with Ismaila Coulibaly: Simon Bellis/SportimageIliman Ndiaye (right) prepares for Sheffield United's game against Watford with Ismaila Coulibaly: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Iliman Ndiaye (right) prepares for Sheffield United's game against Watford with Ismaila Coulibaly: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Pedro was on target when United lost at Vicarage Road earlier this term. However, Heckingbottom’s men have shown greater consistency throughout the course of the season, going 13 matches unbeaten in all competitions before their recent hiccup.

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Revealing he watched Watford’s win over West Brom, Heckingbottom said: “There was a stat that came up during that game which showed we were at the top of the table for missing big moments. I wasn’t happy with that but then, when you think about it given where we are now, it actually revealed how many of those we are creating because we’ve certainly taken plenty as well. It shows we can get even better and that’s something to work on. If you look at it one way, it’s actually something to be really encouraged about - the fact we are in this position and can still get better.”