Sheffield United reveal their plan of action for the remainder of the season

With only eight games remaining in their Championship season, manager Paul Heckingbottom admits Sheffield United’s assignments have now taken on “a different feel” as the battle for automatic promotion approaches its climax.
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But with his squad preparing for Friday’s game against Wigan Athletic ranked second in the table and six points clear of third place, the 45-year-old has warned that it would be a mistake to react to the change by adopting a safety first approach along the finishing straight.

Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s meeting with Wigan Athletic, which is quickly followed by a trip to runaway leaders Burnley, Heckingbottom said United’s return to action following the international break “means everyone understands we’ve reached that stage” where errors of judgement could have huge consequences.

Billy Sharp is one of Sheffield United's most experienced players: Simon Bellis / SportimageBilly Sharp is one of Sheffield United's most experienced players: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
Billy Sharp is one of Sheffield United's most experienced players: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
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But he told The Star: “The way we see it, going about things in the manner we have has got us this far and so why change it now? It wouldn’t make any sense, because it’s not who we are. I want people to go out there and express themselves, to try and get on the front foot. Whatever happens, I’ll never criticise anyone for trying to do that. They know I’ll always have their backs if they do that. The only time I won’t be happy with anyone is if I can see that’s not what they’re doing.”

“When the lads came back, and this will be the same everywhere, I think there is a slightly different feel to things,” Heckingbottom added. “Everyone, right the way across (the competition) knows ‘this is it now. We’re getting to that stage.’ But that doesn’t mean you change what you do or have a different attitude. That’s why the experience we’ve got here is so important for us, because the lads who have been there, seen it and done it before understand.”

Six of those who featured during last weekend’s victory over Norwich City are veterans of the side Heckingbottom’s predecessor Chris Wilder led into the Premier League four years ago. Captain Billy Sharp, Chris Basham and John Fleck also helped Wilder lift United out of League One, with John Egan, Oliver Norwood and George Baldock arriving in South Yorkshire following their elevation from the third tier.

John Egan knows what it takes to win promotion with Sheffield United: Simon Bellis / SportimageJohn Egan knows what it takes to win promotion with Sheffield United: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
John Egan knows what it takes to win promotion with Sheffield United: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

“Those lads, they know what they’re going to be facing and they are great with the rest of the boys, who also have a big part to play in a different way,” Heckingbottom said. “Everyone knows what is at stake. There’s something at stake for all the teams, be it trying to go up, trying to stay up, or professional pride. So that’s why you can’t alter anything in terms of how you go about things. You’ve got to be yourselves.”

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Wigan are propping up the rest of the table but have shown signs of life under new manager Shaun Maloney, drawing with Coventry City and Watford before beating Queens Park Rangers.

“Everything gets magnified,” Heckingbottom said. “But that’s externally. In here, nothing changes and it’s just from one game to the next.”