Speaking after watching his team qualify for the Championship play-offs following a 4-0 victory over title-winners Fulham, Paul Heckingbottom told The Star that returning to the top-flight at the earliest possible opportunity would see some members of his squad become legends among United’s support base.
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Speaking ahead of Saturday’s semi-final first leg against Nottingham Forest at Bramall Lane, Heckingbottom made no attempt to talk down the significance of the occasion, saying: “Big games are what you play for at this time of the season, you remember that.
"If you're in promotion teams you remember them. As a player you remember individual moments, if you score the winner that gets your team up of course you'll remember it, you'll have a photo of it on your wall.
"The players have given themselves the opportunity now to make those memories, to be that player, that team the fans talk about in 10 years' time.
"There's an obvious achievement in promotion and everything that comes with that but there's also a longer-lasting legacy you can leave behind as an individual player and as a team.”
Cool under pressure
Knowing that three points would guarantee a top six finish irrespective of results elsewhere in the competition, United produced their finest display since Heckingbottom’s appointment in November when Marco Silva’s men arrived in South Yorkshire.
Morgan Gibbs-White settled the pre-match nerves with before Iliman Ndiaye, Sander Berge and Enda Stevens also pounced. But before they can contemplate facing either Huddersfield Town or Luton Town at Wembley later this month, United must also overcome opponents who have developed a fearsome reputation under Heckingbottom’s counterpart Steve Cooper.
Prior to last week’s defeat by AFC Bournemouth, which condemned them to the end-of-term knockouts, Forest had won 10 of their last 12 outings. They finished the regular campaign with a 1-1 draw at Hull City.
Heckingbottom, whose team travels to the City Ground a week tomorrow, took charge in November when United, languishing 16th in the table, were still struggling to recover from the hangover of being relegated seven months earlier.
“Yes, we are proud but if we don’t go up, who is going to talk about finishing fifth? We will celebrate and enjoy everything that comes with it but we haven’t achieved anything,” said Heckingbottom. “We have got more to do.”
“We know Forest well and they know us well,” he added. “It will be a full house at our place and I’m sure it will be the same when we go to them. It’s going to be tough, we know that. But then I’m sure they (Forest) are going to be thinking the same.
“This is what it’s all about. This is what you are in it for, to be playing for something rather than just playing the games out. Nobody wants to be doing that.”
After attending the club’s player of the year awards on Saturday night, United are scheduled to begin their preparations for the meeting with Forest in earnest this morning.
“I want people to enjoy it, definitely,” Heckingbottom said. “Then it’s the usual recovery work and back to training as you’d expect.”