Sheffield United's Paul Heckingbottom reveals his number one priority after observing Bramall Lane's squad at work

Rebuilding confidence among Sheffield United’s first team squad must be the club’s number one priority, Paul Heckingbottom has admitted, after acknowledging the players’ morale is at a low ebb following a punishing week at Bramall Lane.

Sheffield United face Chelsea tomorrow: Andrew Yates/Sportimage
Sheffield United face Chelsea tomorrow: Andrew Yates/Sportimage

After observing their work during training ahead of tomorrow’s FA Cup quarter-final at Chelsea, Heckingbottom, who is in caretaker charge until the end of the season, has detected several issues he feels must be urgently addressed to prevent United’s team being dealt even more blows between now and May - when they are expected to be relegated from the Premier League.

Less than 24 hours after officially parting company with manager Chris Wilder last week, United enter the match at Stamford Bridge on the back of a 5-0 defeat at Leicester City and still without a number of key players due to injury - although leading goal scorer David McGoldrick could return following a knee complaint.

Although Heckingbottom has a number of problems to solve in order to stop United’s season spiralling out of control, he told journalists that restoring belief levels behind the scenes is the most pressing - even more than deciding whether to unveil a change of formation against Thomas Tuchel’s side in order to try and stir the visitors into action.

Asked for his initial impressions on the job he is facing, Heckingbottom said: “First and foremost, I’ve enjoyed it. What have I learnt? That they are lacking in confidence.”

Heckingbottom and his de facto assistant Jason Tindall, who was appointed to United’s coaching staff before their trip to the KP Stadium, have decided to focus on the psychological aspects of management rather than their technical responsibilities after holding a series of consultations with colleagues and senior players.

Emphasising the importance of the tie with Chelsea, and explaining how it could set the tone for the remainder of the campaign and beyond, Heckingbotton said: “I was never lucky enough to play in an FA Cup quarter-finals. They don’t come around very often, you can have a 20 year career and not get this far.”

“Then, on top of that, you have people playing for their futures,” he added. “The next manager will be watching, whoever that might be. People are always judging and being judged, no matter what.”

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