Sheffield United receive a warning about discipline as promotion race hots up

As this season’s race for automatic promotion approaches a nail-biting climax, Sheffield United’s players have been reminded that any breaches of discipline could have catastrophic consequences for the club’s bid for Premier League status next term.
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Second in the Championship table and now six points clear of Middlesbrough and Luton Town, who are third and fourth respectively, United manager Paul Heckingbottom nevertheless insisted ahead of Friday’s game against Wigan Athletic that the battle to finish as runners-up behind leaders Burnley is still far from over.

With only nine matches remaining on their 2022/23 schedule, although that could change if they stun Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-finals, United are aware that one unexpected slip-up could completely change the narrative surrounding Bramall Lane. Given that all of those are shoehorned into a 31 day period, Heckingbottom knows that even minor injuries are likely to impact his selection choices over the coming month. He told The Star that red and yellow cards could have the same effect, placing an already ridiculously busy squad under even more stress.

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“We never want them, it’s always important to be disciplined,” Heckingbottom said. “We’ve had some shockers against us and there’s times, particularly in the current climate when you play a certain position, when it’s impossible to avoid them.

“If going in for a tackle, because we don’t want shirkers, and that brings about something then so be it. But what we don’t want are the avoidable ones, such as dissent or doing something stupid.”

Heckingbottom’s awareness of how costly mistakes of that kind could be was highlighted during last weekend’s win over Norwich City at Carrow Road. United defender George Baldock, reacting to provocation from Max Aarons, squared up to his opponents in front of the technical area. Fortunately for both, referee Darren Bond correctly adjudged both to be posturing and issued cautions. But it was revealing to see Heckingbottom and other members of United’s coaching staff leap from the technical area to restrain the two men; preventing the situation from spiralling out of control.

George Baldock of Sheffield United reacts at Carrpw Road: Stephen Pond/Getty ImagesGeorge Baldock of Sheffield United reacts at Carrpw Road: Stephen Pond/Getty Images
George Baldock of Sheffield United reacts at Carrpw Road: Stephen Pond/Getty Images

Baldock was later praised by the 45-year-old for negotiating safe passage through the remainder of the contest without sacrificing his combative edge. “I thought that showed a really good mentality. Good professionalism.” But Heckingbottom did admit he could have been forced to act had Baldock reacted differently.

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“There have been times when we’ve had to bring someone off the pitch because they’ve been on a yellow when, ordinarily, we might have done something else. It often doesn’t take long to get a second, particularly if you are going in there to get the ball. So we have to be aware of that.”

United travel to runaway leaders Burnley on Easter Monday, meaning they will effectively have only one-and-a-half training sessions to prepare for the contest.

George Baldock of Sheffield United and Max Aarons of Norwich City clash: Stephen Pond/Getty ImagesGeorge Baldock of Sheffield United and Max Aarons of Norwich City clash: Stephen Pond/Getty Images
George Baldock of Sheffield United and Max Aarons of Norwich City clash: Stephen Pond/Getty Images

“We’re going to have to move things about as it is,” Heckingbottom said. “That’s the keep things sharp and as fresh as possible. But we want to be able to make those decisions on our own terms, not have them forced upon us if you get what I’m saying.”

“The thing is, though,” he added, “We don’t want to lose any competitiveness. We can’t afford to and the lads know that. They’re experienced, so they don’t need telling all the time.”