Sheffield United's players receive a huge boost ahead of pivotal weekend

Paul Heckingbottom, the Sheffield United manager, has reminded his players they have the beating of any team in the Championship providing they acquit themselves properly during games.
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After seeing their lead over third placed Middlesbrough cut from 10 to four points in less than a week, United enter Saturday’s game against Watford under increasing scrutiny as many supporters and commentators alike express the belief that the momentum of the race for automatic promotion has now shifted towards Michael Carrick’s team.

Despite being beaten by Millwall less than 72 hours after losing to their rivals from Teesside, Heckingbottom remains staunchly behind his squad after watching them lose only once in 18 outings before their recent hiccup. That run included a 5-2 victory over runaway leaders Burnley.

Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom is preparing his team to face Watford: Paul Terry / SportimageSheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom is preparing his team to face Watford: Paul Terry / Sportimage
Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom is preparing his team to face Watford: Paul Terry / Sportimage
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“We need to be at our best and we’ve seen what happens when we are at our best,” Heckingbottom told The Star. “Whenever we’ve slipped up, it tends to be when we’ve fallen below the levels that we know we can reach. That tells you something. It tells you a lot about, when they’re doing everything they’re capable of doing, how good this group of players can be.”

United enjoy a game in hand over Middlesbrough, who face West Bromwich Albion this weekend. Watford edged past Carlos Corberan’s men on Monday night and will make the journey north hoping to repeat their success when United travelled to Hertfordshire in August.

Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom is backing his team to improve its recent results: Simon Bellis / SportimageSheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom is backing his team to improve its recent results: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom is backing his team to improve its recent results: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

Heckingbottom could discover today if he will be banned from the touchline for the meeting with Slaven Bilic’s men, after being charged by the Football Association following his red card during the clash with Middlesbrough. The 45-year-old was dismissed by referee Andre Marriner after protesting about the build-up to the third of three goals scored by the visitors, when he felt James McAtee was denied a foul for “trying to stay on his feet” rather than “just going down.”

“We’re at our best when we’re on the front foot, being aggressive and trying to dominate whilst showing opponents that respect everyone deserves,” said Heckingbottom. “When we’ve done that, we’ve always looked strong and, more often than not, got points. When we’ve dropped then, it’s usually because we’ve not reached those levels.”