Sheffield United fell to Rotherham last night in front of a packed Bramall Lane to put a dampener on Saturday’s superb win over Burnley.
The Blades could have gone back top of the table with a win. However, a subdued performance from United allowed Ben Wiles to score the winner for the Millers. Indeed, over the course of 90 minutes, Rotherham full deserved the three points.
For United and their manager, Paul Heckingbottom, there was plenty to ponder. More injury scares came in the form of John Fleck and Oli McBurnie. A lack of energy was also apparent, while once again, we saw a team execute a game plan and stifle the Blades with relative ease.
And while the players are ultimately, responsible for putting in performances, there has to be questions asked of Heckingbottom and certain decisions last night.
We all know Sheffield United are ravaged by injuries. Key players are out and Stuart McCall confirmed a number are carrying knocks as well.
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Every week Heckingbottom speaks about managing players, not overdoing it with certain individuals when it comes to minutes. It’s the right thing to talk about and makes sense, on the surface. And after beating Burnley so convincingly, it was hard to change the XI really.
However, the last 20 minutes v Burnley and last night call Heckingbottom’s thinking into question. United were 5-2 up against Burnley with 16 minutes of the 90 to go. Despite that control, it wasn’t until the 82nd minute we saw McBurnie taken off, while John Fleck and George Baldock only came off in injury time. Why, then, were those players not given more respite? Similarly with Iliman Ndiaye, who once again played 90 minutes despite cramping up at Bristol City.
Onto last night, and Heckingbottom went for the exact same players again. The likes of Clark, Khadra, Sharp, and Basham could all have played to freshen things up a tad. Coincidentally, Fleck was then injured inside 25 minutes. Whether that’s a result of overplaying, we won’t know.
Once again, loanee Khadra was only given 10 minutes against the Millers. It was clear and obvious it wasn’t working far before his 80th minute introduction. Again, Heckingbottom can be questioned on this call.
With both McBurnie and Fleck leaving the ground injured last night, this World Cup break is coming at the perfect time for Sheffield United. It will, essentially, feel like we have new signings when football returns in December.
From there, we’ll get to see how Heckingbottom manages the squad. Surely, the likes of Doyle, Lowe, Bogle, Berge, and Norrington-Davies come back into the starting XI as and when they’re fit to do so. Likewise, Rhian Brewster is needed on the bench at the very least.
The outlook for players returning is a positive for United. Those players are needed. The XI last night looked dead on its feet at times. Which makes the decision to stick with the same players over and over even more baffling.
With just Cardiff to face before four weeks off, Heckingbottom needs to ensure he gets it right. Sure, the numbers aren’t there to select from right now. But there has to be some freshness brought to the XI.
If Heckingbottom goes with the same battered and bruised XI and the performance is like the one against Rotherham, then the boss can expect more questions.