As the manager and his assistants finalise their preparations for a critical weekend on the Championship’s fixture calendar, other members of staff have been tasked with overseeing a review into the fitness issues which, at one stage, threatened to derail the club’s push for promotion.
Although he does not want to preempt their findings, or influence them in any way, Heckingbottom did tell journalists that the spotlight has already fallen on three areas: Conditions at their Shirecliffe training complex, the absence of a proper pre-season programme and a chaotic schedule over Christmas and New Year.
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“We have had some horrific injuries and we are looking at that,” Heckingbottom confirmed. “Is it the training pitch? Is it the fact that pre-season was wrecked with Covid-19? Or that period when we hardly had a game, with people cancelling on us. When we can whittle it down, then we can start taking steps to put things right.”
Although the options at Heckingbottom’s disposal have been bolstered by the return of captain Billy Sharp and defender Chris Basham, United still enter Friday’s match against Queens Park Rangers without the likes of David McGoldrick, Jayden Bogle and record signing Rhian Brewster while George Baldock and John Fleck are both “managing” their way through “their own issues” according to the 44-year-old. A win at Loftus Road would see United take a huge step towards qualifying for the end of season play-offs, ahead of next month’s clash with newly promoted Fulham.
Appointed in November, Heckingbottom has previously expressed suspicions that the first team training pitches at the Randox Health Academy have contributed towards United’s woeful injury record. Chris Wilder and Slavisa Jokanovic, his two immediate predecessors, both made their displeasure at the facilities on offer there known to United’s hierarchy before departing.
The latter, who spent only six months in charge before being sacked during the run-up to the festive period, also saw the coronavirus pandemic limit him to only two pre-season friendlies. One of those was against Gibraltarian amateurs Europa Point.
Outlining his hope that Baldock will be available for selection in west London despite not training with the rest of his colleagues this week, Heckingbottom said: “It’s probably a combination of things.
“There was a period after Fulham (in December) when it rained and the pitch never drained. It’s not signed and sealed but there are conversations about getting it done.
“There’s always ongoing things that need doing when you have got a tired building. We’ve had a new floor put down in the gym for example. The training pitches themselves, that’s what we are talking about.”
Baldock missed last weekend’s victory over Cardiff City after limping-out of United’s draw with Bristol City on Bank Holiday Monday.
“He’s not trained with the squad, George,” Heckingbottom said. “But we were pleased after we got the scan back so we’re expecting him to be back with us for Friday. It was a blow when you are losing players in a game, hamstrings especially. It’s a case of him knowing his body and understanding something isn’t quite right. That’s why he came off.”