Sheffield United: Rival admits Championship's biggest and best crowd is The Blades' most powerful weapon

Paul Heckingbottom has identified the most powerful weapon in Sheffield United’s armoury as this season’s race for play-off qualification enters the final straight.

Tuesday, 12th April 2022, 8:20 am

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Sixth in the table with only five matches remaining, the United manager has acknowledged the Easter weekend games against Reading and Bristol City will shape how the rest of his team’s campaign unfolds.

Three of those outings, including Friday’s clash with Paul Ince’s side, are being staged at Bramall Lane. And that, Heckingbottom insisted, provides United with an opportunity to try and exploit the advantages afforded them by a partisan home crowd.

“I always look forward to games at our place,” he said, noting United’s average attendance is the highest in the Championship this term. “But even more so now, given that there’s so much riding in them.

“I think we’ve seen an evolution, if you want to put it like that, in the relationship between the team and the fans. It was lost during Covid-19, when everything was going on behind closed doors. But I definitely feel as if it’s back now.

Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom applauds the home fans: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

“And that’s vital for us because, as we know, although we’ve got to try and go out there and get things going, the intensity of the crowd - and our crowd is intense - can have a huge effect upon the intensity of performances too.”

Scott Parker, Heckingbottom’s counterpart at AFC Bournemouth, admitted as much following Saturday’s goalless draw between the two clubs.

Sheffield United felt decisions went against them against AFC Bournemouth: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

Speaking after admitting the visitors had been fortunate not to have conceded a second-half penalty when Nat Phillips poleaxed Morgan Gibbs-White inside the box, the former Chelsea midfielder said: “Coming here, to a stadium with this kind of intensity, it’s a real test for anyone. That intensity, you feel it and it makes it difficult for players.”

Heckingbottom, who wants referee chiefs to explain why so many “blatant” decisions have gone against United in recent weeks, hopes captain Billy Sharp will return for the final three games of the regular campaign.

“Every time we go out there, it’s vital,” Heckingbottom said. “We just want the supporters to know they have as big a role as anyone in what we’re trying to do. Never under-estimate what an influence the crowd can have.”