Sheffield United star highlights biggest success of manager's reign as he reaches key milestone

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Enda Stevens says Paul Heckingbottom has brought Sheffield United’s ‘identity’ back as the manager celebrates an excellent first year in charge at Bramall Lane.

Heckingbottom took over as United’s permanent boss 12 months ago with United languishing in 16th after relegation from the Premier League, and led them to the semi-finals of the Championship play-offs last season.

After a heartbreaking penalty shootout defeat to eventual winners Nottingham Forest, United are on track to go one better this time around after climbing to second in the Championship table before the World Cup break.

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United have won 26 of Heckingbottom’s 48 Championship games in charge, giving him the best win ratio of any manager in United history, and Republic of Ireland defender Stevens said: "It was just about identity. He brought our identity back.

"He brought his own methods and his own training schemes and I think he's just grown players. A lot of our lads have drastically improved since he's come in the door. He strengthened the squad where it needed to be strengthened. We have a great squad this season and we're just pushing now to achieve something."

Heckingbottom, previously United’s caretaker boss in the Premier League relegation season after Chris Wilder’s departure, answered an SOS from the Blades for the second time after Slavisa Jokanović’s 22-game reign was brought to an abrupt end.

Enda Stevens with Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom: Andrew Yates / SportimageEnda Stevens with Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom: Andrew Yates / Sportimage
Enda Stevens with Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

"Slav probably needed more time to implement his ways and his philosophy and it just wasn't really working," Stevens added. "It might not have worked for a long time. No one would have known. The club felt like they needed to change, Paul came in and his record when he first came was nothing short of unbelievable, especially at home. We were unlucky to lose in the play-offs last season.

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"It's time spent on the training pitch and in the meeting room, it's understanding. A lot of the lads now understand what they're doing when they go out onto the football pitch. He'll break it down to the tactics of how we're going to hurt teams, how other teams will look to hurt us and how we're going to defend against it and it's been working.

"He's honest, he'll come to you and you can go to him whenever you want and have an honest chat man to man. That's what players need."

Success at Bramall Lane this season would be a real team effort, with staff judged by the same standards as players under Heckingbottom’s reign and expected to show the same traits they demand from members of the squad.

“All the staff are on the ball with everything and take a lot of pride in what they do,” Stuart McCall, Heckingbottom’s assistant, said. “It's all about standards and they know if their standards are not good enough they'll get called out, like us all.

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"We can't expect the players to get to a standard if the staff aren't and it's not just Hecky, myself and Jack [Lester]. There's a really good support staff. You've got to make sure you can have a trust in your staff and give them roles and responsibilities, and Hecky does that really well. But you've got to be on your job because if not, there are always other people that will take your place."

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