Speaking after United’s defeat to Nottingham Forest on penalties following Tuesday’s second leg at the City Ground, Heckingbottom admitted he was still processing the club’s failure to make an immediate return to the Premier League despite a heroic performance in the east Midlands.
But in order to prevent United suffering a repeat of the hangover caused by their relegation from the top-flight a year ago, which paved the way for his appointment in November, the former Barnsley, Leeds and Hibernian chief has told staff they must not spend too long dwelling on events against Forest.
“The work starts tomorrow,” Heckingbottom said, confirming he plans to speak with goalkeeper Adam Davies about extending his contract at Bramall Lane. “It’s what we love, it’s a lifestyle.
“Working with the players, working with the staff, football, it’s what we all love and enjoy.
“Even nights like this, although the result wasn’t the right one for us, it’s what we’re in the game for. We didn’t make it but I’m proud of my team and enjoy watching them.”
The work to be done
Despite recently reaching agreements with Chris Basham, Jack Robinson, Ben Osborn and Billy Sharp - who is recovering after being attacked by a Forest supporter following the final whistle - Heckingbottom still has “six or seven” vacancies within his squad he wants to fill before United return to training. Davies, a Wales international, was recruited after being released from his deal with Stoke City during the winter transfer window.
Sixteenth in the table when he took charge in November, Heckingbottom led United to fifth in the table after replacing Slavisa Jokanovic.
“I’m hoping I’ll have forgotten about it by next season,” he said. “We have to get over it quickly, even though that won’t be easy.
“Football being football, I’ll make sure I get some time to myself. But it’s a tough question to ask because, right now, I still don’t feel as if we are out. I still feel as if we are on that rollercoaster.”
Trailing 2-1 after Saturday’s match in South Yorkshire, United fell further behind when Brennan Johnson stretched Forest’s lead two days ago. But Morgan Gibbs-White and John Fleck levelled the scoreline on aggregate before United eventually bowed-out on spot kicks.
“I’m proud of them,” Heckingbottom said. “They fought, they gave everything. I’m upset for them but also immensely proud of those boys and what they did. Their families will be proud of them and they should be proud of themselves.
“That’s what they should take away with them. That’s what I’ll make sure they take away with them. We’ve got to be ready to go again and, like I say, that work from my perspective and the staff’s perspective starts right now. Straight away. Because this is what we do."