Sheffield United told the one thing they'll regret not doing in the battle for second automatic promotion slot

Paul Heckingbottom, the Sheffield United manager, believes that clear and coherent messaging can help his squad express themselves during the closing stages of the season despite knowing that one slip could cost the club a place in the Premier League next term.
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Second in the Championship with only seven matches remaining ahead of tomorrow’s visit to leaders Burnley, Heckingbottom acknowledges United’s margins for error in the battle for promotion are painfully slim despite seeing them travel to Turf Moor eight points clear of third placed Luton Town with a game in hand.

Despite acknowledging the size of the prize United are chasing, estimated to be worth at least £110m, Heckingbottom wants his side to continue adopting a “front foot approach” rather than becoming more risk averse.

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Calculating they are at their best when “they’re being aggressive”, Heckingbottom confirmed that both he and his coaching staff have important roles to perform in order to ensure that instruction resonates in the dressing room.

“We are all about clarity,” he said. “Genuinely, I don’t think there’s a player that I’ve criticised for making a mistake with the ball. I have more of an issue with people not trying to get on the ball and that message is being reinforced again.”

Together with his assistants Stuart McCall and Jack Lester, Heckingbottom is aware United are approaching a crossroads in their future development given the financial issues they are experiencing off the pitch. Operating under a transfer embargo since January, which prevented him from drafting in reinforcements at a pivotal stage of the campaign, reaching the top-flight would go a long way towards staving-off some of the tough decisions United’s board of directors are facing over the coming months; particularly with Dozy Mmobuosi’s proposed takeover still awaiting English Football League approval.

Sheffield United forward lliman Ndiaye is among the gifted players Paul Heckingbottom wants to express themselves: Andrew Yates / SportimageSheffield United forward lliman Ndiaye is among the gifted players Paul Heckingbottom wants to express themselves: Andrew Yates / Sportimage
Sheffield United forward lliman Ndiaye is among the gifted players Paul Heckingbottom wants to express themselves: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

However, Heckingbottom insisted the tension upstairs and on the terraces has not permeated through to his team, which is also preparing to face Manchester City in the semi-finals of the FA Cup later this month.

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“We are enjoying this,” he said. “We are in with a shout of automatic promotion and in the latter stages of the best and the biggest cup competition in the world. This is what we play for. Externally, I get nerves. But, do you know what? Enjoy it, seriously. Because you don’t always get it. You don;t always find yourself in this type of situation so, when you do, make the most of it.”

Before locking horns with Pep Guardiola’s side at Wembley, United face Cardiff City and Bristol City at home before returning to action following their appearance in London when West Bromwich Albion travel to South Yorkshire. United then contest their final home match of 2022/23 when Preston North End cross the Pennines, before completing their schedule with trips to Huddersfield Town and Birmingham City.

Sheffield United's John Egan in action against Wigan Athletic: Andrew Yates / SportimageSheffield United's John Egan in action against Wigan Athletic: Andrew Yates / Sportimage
Sheffield United's John Egan in action against Wigan Athletic: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

“In football, this Easter period is always a big one,” Heckingbottom said. “You can ease pressure, put yourself under a little bit more or edge another step closer to where you want to be if you’re in the hunt. But with what we’ve got to go, two big games in the space of a week is standard. We know we are in contention in two big competitions and that’s really exciting to be a part of.”