Sheffield United: The ridiculous steps Paul Heckingbottom is taking to protect players

Paul Heckingbottom, the Sheffield United manager, has admitted the club’s injury problems have become so acute in recent weeks that he is now making substitutions based on fitness rather than tactical considerations.
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Although he insisted there “must be no excuses” for the midweek defeat by Rotherham, which ended a run of three straight wins, Heckingbottom’s revelation highlights the stress which has been placed upon his squad as they prepare to enter the World Cup break.

After tomorrow’s game against Cardiff City, United are not scheduled to compete again until December 10th, when Huddersfield Town visit Bramall Lane.

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“The frustrating thing is, we’re juggling substitutions with all of this in mind,” Heckingbottom conceded before departing for Wales. “We’re having to make decisions based on a whole lot of things that wouldn’t usually enter our minds. Obviously it’s not ideal. But we’ll get through it.”

Despite their diminished options, third placed United know a repeat of last season’s victory over Mark Hudson’s employers will see them return to the top of the table. However, after preparing for the contest in third, the fact leaders Burnley and second-placed Blackburn Rovers meet on Sunday means it is impossible for them to retain that ranking following this latest round of games.

With Sander Berge, Rhian Brewster, Jayden Bogle, Daniel Jebbison, Rhys Norrington Davies and Max Lowe all certain to miss out against City, United also have doubts over Tommy Doyle, John Fleck, Oli McBurnie and Anel Ahmedhodzic. Chris Basham and James McAtee, meanwhile, are being coaxed through injuries.

“Oli, the outlook’s positive,” Heckingbottom said. “John took a knock where his (old leg) break was. But we’re hopeful.”