The last five games have been nothing short of a disaster for Sheffield United and Paul Heckingbottom, with just two points picked up from a possible 15.
After topping the table going into the international break, United had a golden chance to cement that position with home games against teams who, on paper, looked beatable. However, defeat against QPR and two poor draws with Birmingham have left those inside Bramall Lane feeling flat. Meanwhile, two miserable away defeats at Stoke and Coventry have exposed the Blades to criticism that seemed a long way off a month back.
However, that criticism is warranted. Yes, there can be an over-reaction at times from some sections of the fanbase but you get that at any football club.
But be under no illusions here, Paul Heckingbottom is facing a pressure at Sheffield United he hasn’t yet had to deal with. And it makes tomorrow’s clash with Norwich the biggest game of his managerial career so far.
Injuries Can’t Keep Being Used As An Excuse
We all know Sheffield United’s injury problems have been a nightmare this season. In fact, this roles into last term as well, which led to Heckingbottom to make changes over the summer to try and stop such issues.
But we’ve seen the situation worsen. Sure, some have been unavoidable contact injuries. Others, though, seem to be a result of players either being overworked or, put simply, not looked after properly. That’s a claim Heckingbottom has refuted in an interview with local press today.
However, while injuries are there, they’re also part and parcel of football and at the end of the day, United’s squad has underperformed recently. At Coventry, Heckingbottom left two players in Rhian Brewster and Reda Khadra on the bench all night. Instead, he opted to keep Oli McBurnie on (who he said days prior couldn’t do 90 minutes) and introduced the ageing Billy Sharp instead. It was a call which left more than one Blades fan baffled, including this writer.
Once again, injuries dominate the build-up to Norwich. But other clubs have them, and other Championship clubs don’t have the squad depth of Sheffield United. Ultimately, Heckingbottom should be getting more from this group as it stands right now.
Norwich A Chance To Right The Wrongs
The best thing about Championship football is that there is always a game around the corner to try and put things right. Norwich are that game this weekend. They are a team who find themselves under similar pressure to United, in that they’re not performing how fans want.
For United and Heckingbottom, this is a chance to get on the front foot and put down a marker against a team expected to challenge in the top six.
It is, then, vital that Heckingbottom gets his team selection, subs, and tactics spot on. Bramall Lane can be a nervy and restless place, and if this weekend becomes six without a win, expect a minority to make their feelings known.
Paul Heckingbottom has done brilliantly since taking over. He’s rightly been lauded and praised for that. But he now faces a pressure he’s not yet had at Bramall Lane. Beating Norwich, with the players putting in the performances we saw prior to the break, will go a long way to repairing any fractures starting to appear.