Sheffield United midfielder keen to impact promotion run-in after promising cameos

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Blades midfielder Coulibaly keen for more action after glimpses of ability so far

Ismaila Coulibaly is keen to play a part in Sheffield United’s Championship promotion run-in, boss Paul Heckingbottom has suggested, after the Malian midfielder’s brief cameos in a Blades shirt so far.

The 22-year-old’s United career did not start until this season, after two years on loan with the Blades’ sister club Beerschot, and Unitedites have been restricted to the odd glimpse of the Malian after his debut was delayed by a knee injury discovered in pre-season.

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After a couple of cameos off the bench late in games, Coulibaly made his full debut in the FA Cup at home to Wrexham and left the pitch to a standing ovation from supporters when he was substituted in the second half.

Coulibaly played 90 minutes for the U21s against Sheffield Wednesday earlier this week, to show boss Heckingbottom he is fit and ready, and Heckingbottom admits he would have had chance to perform in front of the Blades fans earlier were it not for that frustrating injury - a spell the player described as the hardest of his life so far.

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“There has been a jump and he understands that,” Heckingbottom said. “Some of the games in the Championship this season have been like games of rugby, with how they have been refereed.

“That’s a big thing for anyone coming over to England and something he has to get used to. But he’s thrown himself into it. He got a few games in pre-season and he’s had chance to prepare for it, mentally. He’s had a feel of it and I know it’s whet his appetite. Now he’s determined to get some more. He’s pleased to be here, and now he’ll be chomping at the bit to get another go.”

Heckingbottom was at Bramall Lane to watch Coulibaly for the U21s on Monday afternoon, with fellow midfielder John Fleck and defender Ciaran Clark also featuring.

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“It’s the same message as everyone else; it’s down to him,” Heckingbottom added. “He’ll get the opportunity if he performs well enough.

“The biggest things he has been getting used to are his role without the ball and then certain principles that we as a club want with the ball. He can handle a football, he can see a pass.

“There are lots of qualities that he has in his game but we are trying to develop a reliability, so that he can just slot in like a jigsaw.”

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