'You can make the difference' Sheffield United fans are told as crowds return to Bramall Lane
Sheffield United’s performance against Burnley underlined the role supporters played during the club’s march from the third to the first tier of English football, caretaker manager Paul Heckinbottom admitted, after watching his relegated team bow out of the Premier League with a win over Burnley.
The meeting with Sean Dyche’s side marked the return of fans to Bramall Lane for the first time since March last year, when the game retreated behind closed doors because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite finishing ninth in the table during their first season back in the top-flight, United endured a marked downturn in results following the decision to shut the turnstiles.
However, with their fate already sealed, Heckingbottom’s team produced one of their most impressive displays of the campaign against the visitors from Turf Moor.
“I’ve argued all along that it’s affected this group of players perhaps more than anyone,” said Heckingbottom, who was placed in interim charge when Chris Wilder vacated his position in March. “It was our way of levelling the playing field if you like, when we were up against teams full of international footballers right the way through the line-up. It was our way of giving ourselves an advantage.”
Wilder, who twice led United to promotion after being appointed in May 2016, also insisted the absence of crowds had been a handicap for his squad at the highest level.
“I’ve brought teams here when it’s been a full house and I know how difficult it is,” Heckingbottom, who managed Barnsley, Leeds and Hiberbnian before becoming United’s under-23’s coach, said. “I know how tough the crowd can make it for visiting teams and its effect.”