Sheffield United's players are told their performance at Leeds United must set the tone for next season
Paul Heckingbottom has told Sheffield United’s players that the remaining games of what has been a troubled season at Bramall Lane will shape their careers both next season and beyond.
Speaking ahead of Saturday’s visit to his former club Leeds, Heckingbottom appeared to acknowledge that exiting the Premier League in an orderly fashion is the best United can hope for between now and the end of a campaign which has seen them slip 14 points adrift of safety and part company with Chris Wilder.
But with Wilder’s permanent replacement likely to study showreels of United’s performances this term to influence their decisions on selection and recruitment policy, Heckingbottom said: “A winning mentality and performances, there’s players playing for their futures here and elsewhere, so that’s what we’re looking for.
“Some players, this could be their last time in the Premier League. Others will be back, you just don’t know. It can define how we start next season too. We need to push for three points in every game.”
Placed in caretaker charge following Wilder’s departure three weeks ago, Heckingbottom’s preparations for this weekend’s return to Elland Road - where he spent four months in charge before being replaced by Marcelo Bielsa - have been hampered by the absence of several key players during the international break. Although Norway’s Sander Berge recently reported back for duty at the Steelphalt Academy, the midfielder is still “a couple of weeks away” from being declared fit according to the 43-year-old, while John Egan will almost certainly miss the trip to West Yorkshire despite making progress in his battle to recover from a dislocated toe.
Chris Basham, Billy Sharp and Jack O’Connell are also absentees, which has further limited the amount of work Heckingbottom and his assistant Jason Tindall have been able to undertake on the training ground.
“Usually, you think the international break is a time to really get into the lads who are here, and instill some messages in them,” Heckingbottom said. “The difficulty for us is that we’ve got so many coming back only today and a couple tomorrow. But there’s still things we’ve been able to do, and the boys here have responded really positively.”