Sheffield United's caretaker boss Paul Heckingbottom makes a claim about next season
Paul Heckingbottom dismissed suggestions that Sheffield United’s attempt to regain their Premier League status next season could be undermined by a poor finish to the present campaign, after watching them beaten for the 28th time since September’s return to action.
Speaking after the 2-0 defeat by Crystal Palace, their 14th at home this term, United’s caretaker manager was asked if confidence levels among the squad needed replenishing before its return to the Championship.
Despite acknowledging the psychological challenge United face after being mathematically relegated last month, Heckingbottom said: “I’m not concerned about confidence next season, no. Why? Because it’s a different league, a totally different set up and the players will have had a break, which they’ve not had for two years now because of Covid.
“Obviously we want to win games. That goes without saying and that’s what we’ll be trying to do.
“It will be better if we do, clearly. But I’m not worried about there being any sort of hangover. There shouldn’t be because we’ll be starting afresh in a different league.
"We have to give our all, which we will be doing, between now and the end and then learning lessons and drawing a line under this.”
United fell behind after only 90 seconds of a contest Palace controlled almost from start to finish, when Christian Benteke scored a deflected effort before Eberechi Eze who provided the assist for the Belgian, added a second late on.
Although Heckingbottom insisted his players had “gained momentum” and “established a foothold” in the game after the break in truth they offered little with only goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale and teenage debutant Daniel Jebbison emerging with any credit.
Appointed on an interim basis following Chris Wilder’s departure in March, Heckingbottom has been actively involved in planning United’s recovery strategy. But his claims to secure the role permanently are being undermined by the squad’s increasingly insipid performances as they prepare to wave goodbye to the top-flight. After also considering Oostende’s Alexander Blessin and Philippe Clement of Club Brugge, The Star understands United’s hierarchy will attempt to arrange talks with Slavisa Jokanovic’s representatives this week in order to try and discover if the Serb is also interested in the role.
A promotion winner with both Watford and Fulham before taking charge of Al-Gharafa, Jokanovic is widely expected to return to Europe following two years in Qatar.
“There’s been a feeling for a while that people just want the season to be over,” Heckingbottom admitted. “I don’t like that, because there’s always something to play for and always something to learn from this situation: Why are we in it? Why haven’t we been good enough? What do we have to do to improve?”
"We have to still try and attack the matches we’ve got left,” he added. “That’s what you have to do in football, in situations like this. And that’s what we will be doing because, whatever else gets levelled at them, the one thing people can’t day about thius group is that it isn’t honest.”