Sheffield United: The specially designed pre-match programme that boosted Iliman Ndiaye

Sheffield United devised a tailormade pre-match preparation programme for Iliman Ndiaye, manager Paul Heckingbottom revealed, after watching the youngster’s goal lay the foundations for last night’s win over QPR which left his team on the brink of qualifying for the Championship play-offs.

Saturday, 30th April 2022, 5:00 am

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After Charlie Austin had fired Mark Warburton’s side into a shock half-time lead, Ndiaye’s third goal in four outings proved the catalyst for a remarkable comeback by United who also saw Jack Robinson and substitute Conor Hourihane write their names onto the scoresheet.

A practising Muslim, Ndiaye was allowed to break his Ramadan fast by referee Peter Bankes midway through the opening period. Heckingbottom, whose sixth-placed side will now enter the final weekend of the regular season at least two points clear of seventh, later explained the 22-year-old had travelled separately to the rest of the visitors’ squad in order to ensure he was in peak condition for the contest.

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“Iliman, he prepared differently to the rest of the lads,” Heckingbottom told The Star. “He came down on his own the night before the rest of us and stayed in the team hotel so that he could eat before he arrived and could also fuel up properly before sunrise. He could also, that way, get some proper sleep.

“It was the nutritionist’s suggestion. And it definitely seemed to work.”

Like his injured colleague Rhian Brewster, Ndiaye is abstaining from food and drink during daylight hours throughout the holiest month on the Islamic calendar.

Acknowledging United had learnt from Brewster’s experiences last season, when the former Liverpool striker struggled to combine his faith with his footballing responsibilities, Heckingbottom added: “This time last year, when Rhian was in and around the team, he really suffered with it. He got poorly and lost quite a lot of weight.

Iliman Ndiaye of Sheffield United (R) scores their team's first goal past Jimmy Dunne and Murphy Mahoney of Queens Park Rangers during the Sky Bet Championship match in west London: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

“We are totally respectful of what they are doing and will do whatever it takes to accommodate them and make sure they are as comfortable as possible. Because they still have to be ready and they still have to perform.”

Describing United’s result in west London as “very big”, Heckingbottom used to his post-game media conference to confirm that captain Billy Sharp faces “weeks rather than days” out of action - although medical staff are hopeful, should they secure a top six finish, that he could play some part in the end of term knockouts.

“Billy has torn his calf and obviously that’s not good news for us or for him,” Heckingbottom said. “He’ll be fighting tooth and nail to come back and we believe he could, if we get through, be involved in those.”

“He did it in training earlier in the week,” Heckingbottom added. “I hope everyone can understand why I wanted to try and keep that under wraps. But that’s where we are with it right now.”

Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom urges his team on: David Klein / Sportimage

United face Fulham at Bramall Lane next weekend, with Ndiaye expected to feature despite limping-off during the closing stages of their meeting with Rangers.

“It was cramp, nothing more than that,” Heckingbottom said. “He tried to run it off because, with all due respect, our forward options on the bench are two 18-year-olds (Daniel Jebbison and Will Osula).

“He’ll be okay. He’ll be fine.”