Sheffield United vs Bristol City Highlights: Rhian Brewster and Billy Sharp ensure Paul Heckingbottom's reign starts with a win

Sheffield United, we’ve discovered, have a curious relationship with results.

Monday, 29th November 2021, 9:35 am

They mattered when Slavisa Jokanovic was sacked, with the statement confirming his departure admitting as much. But the Serb’s replacement, Paul Heckingbottom, apparently won’t be judged by final scorelines.

Which, with United entering this game nine points off the top six pace, has made some people wonder why they paid their former manager to go. Particularly as Jokanovic, one of the most decorated coaches outside of the English Premier League, has a reputation for achieving success following desperately slow starts.

None of that, however, reflects badly on Heckingbottom who demonstrated his credentials during a spell in caretaker charge last term. But as he steps into Bramall Lane’s strange new world, where performances away from the pitch are seemingly afforded equal weight to those on it, the club’s former under-23’s chief isn’t daft enough to think his reign won’t be viewed through the prism of footballing outcomes.

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A resurgent Rhian Brewster helped Heckingbottom slice through the confusion, netting the opening goal of the game against Bristol City. Climbing to 13th in the Championship table following a deserved victory sealed by substitute Billy Sharp’s strike, United were more purposeful and direct than in recent matches as Heckingbottom laid down a template for how he wants to play.

Jayden Bogle and Chris Basham were also effective, darting forward in attack to support their frontline.

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“A new era, new beginnings,” Gary Sinclair, the stadium’s long-serving match host, told a sparse’ish crowd ahead of kick-off, as United’s new management team emerged from the tunnel. It was nearly the perfect start too, as Morgan Gibbs-White’s cross, following the first attack of the game, only just evaded Brewster who had escaped his marker.

Brewster has struggled for form and goals since arriving from Liverpool and when Enda Stevens elected to square rather than shoot in an unsuccessful attempt to find him, you began to suspect United’s other outfield players were on a mission to help the youngster score.

He did. Just before the break. For the second time in three appearances. Is this the start of something special? Having paid £23.5m to acquire Brewster’s services, United certainly hope so. Fingers are being crossed the injury later he suffered is not too serious.

Flanked by his assistant Stuart McCall and head of player development Jack Lester, who has left United’s academy to take up the role, Heckingbottom made only one change to the team which had helped Jokanovic sign off with a win; Conor Hourihane replacing the suspended John Fleck in midfield.

David McGoldrick of Sheffield United gets away from Ayman Benarous and Alex Scott of Bristol City during the Sky Bet Championship match at Bramall Lane: Alistair Langham / Sportimage

Pacing calmly around the technical area, with McCall much more animated behind him, Heckingbottom nevertheless breathed a huge sigh of relief when Tomas Kalas’ header was expertly palmed away to safety by Wes Foderingham.

The synergy between Conor Hourihane and Stevens, whose pass created the opening for Brewster to convert, was splendid; the youngster drilling home a low shot after his colleagues had combined.

With an injury to City’s Nathan Baker stripping both teams of any rhythm during the second period, Gibbs-White went close to doubling United’s advantage before Sharp turned home David McGoldrick’s assist.

Sheffield United: Foderingham, Stevens, Bogle, Basham, Egan, Davies, Hourihane (Osborn 90), Norwood (Berge 90), Brewster (Sharp 68), McGoldrick, Gibbs-White. Not used: Eastwood, Burke, Robinson, Ndiaye.

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: Rhian Brewster of Sheffield United celebrates after scoring against Bristol City during Paul Heckingbottom's first match in permanent charge: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Bristol City: Bentley, Martin, O’Dowda, Weimann, Bakinson (Semenyo 76), Baker (Atkinson 60), Kalas, Vyner, Scott, Benarous (Wells 64), Massengo. Not used: O’Leary, Simpson, Dasilva, Pring.

Referee: Geoff Eltringham (County Durham).

Attendance: 25,615.

Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom applauds the Bramall Lane crowd before kick-off, having replaced Slavisa Jokanovic on Thursday: David Davies/PA Wire.
Goalscorer, Billy Sharp of Sheffield United and Morgan Gibbs-White celebrate during the Sky Bet Championship match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield: Alistair Langham / Sportimage
Goalscorer, Billy Sharp of Sheffield United and Morgan Gibbs-White celebrate during the Sky Bet Championship match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield: Alistair Langham / Sportimage