Sheffield United wrap star performer in cotton wool ahead of Watford's visit

Sheffield United are wrapping one of their most influential performers in cotton wool as Paul Heckingbottom attempts to prevent the club’s inactivity during last month’s transfer window from hijacking his squad’s promotion challenge.
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Having named Iliman Ndiaye on the bench for last weekend’s defeat by Millwall, which saw United’s lead over third placed Middlesbrough cut to four points, Heckingbottom later confirmed the attacker’s preparations for the game had been affected by a knock sustained three days earlier during the loss of Michael Carrick’s side.

After scoring 10 goals and claiming eight assists in all competitions so far this term, Ndiaye was deemed fit enough to be introduced towards the end of United’s visit to south London. But he is continuing to be assessed at the Randox Health Academy this week, as Heckingbottom looks to ensure the Senegal international is in a position to start Saturday’s game against Watford at Bramall Lane.

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Revealing efforts to diagnose and therefore properly treat Ndiaye’s thigh condition have been complicated by the fact he “presented as if he’d had a kick but can’t actually remember taking one”, the United manager said: “We’ll be keeping an eye on him, as you would expect. But he was okay to take part (at The Den) so that tells you something too.”

Nevertheless, after sanctioning Reda Khadra’s departure during the mid-season window before learning his employers had banned from processing registrations by the English Football League, Heckingbottom could be forgiven for privately cursing the situation United have found themselves in off-the-pitch where Dozy Mmobuosi’s protracted and faltering takeover bid also threatens to cause a distraction. Although the news that Ndiaye and Sander Berge would be remaining in South Yorkshire until at least the end of the campaign was cause for celebration, much of the commentary praising United’s hierarchy for retaining the duo’s services ignored - either deliberately or otherwise - the fact Heckingbottom’s options had been prevented from strengthening at a critical phase of the season. Watford, by contrast, welcomed 10 new faces to Vicarage Road while Carrick was able to draft-in three. One of those acquisitions, Cameron Archer, scored twice when they beat United at Bramall Lane last week.

“We’ll make changes to keep things fresh,” Heckingbottom said after that fixture. “Maybe not as many as we’d like, though.”