Before going into the nitty-gritty here it’s worth noting that the work of Chris Wilder at Sheffield United Football Club was unbelievable and his legacy will always remain.
But in a week where Paul Heckingbottom seems to be the new target for some supporters, it’s worth noting that this isn’t Heckingbottom’s mess.
Yes, his appointment as permanent manager wouldn’t be the most inspiring of choices. Indeed, we’ve written on here how United need to look beyond Heckingbottom. But to pin the blame for some woeful performances and results since he took temporary charge would be a tad unfair.
Heckingbottom inherited a team already in dire straits and spiralling towards the Championship. Despite a decent January which saw wins against Newcastle, West Brom, and then a big three points at Old Trafford at the beginning of February, things were hardly brilliant at The Lane under Wilder.
When Wilder left, United had lost four of the last five. Just one win, against Villa, came in that set of fixtures. Concerningly, we lost with a whimper at Fulham, while Southampton – again – cruised past us at home.
And while the 5-0 loss at Leicester bore all the hallmarks of a team in shock and on the floor, you can hardly point the finger at Heckingbottom.
In all honesty, everyone would have been happy to keep Chris Wilder in charge. In terms of next season, it’s still highly unlikely we bring anyone in better equipped to take us back up. It’s also worth noting the injury crisis at Bramall Lane this season has been ridiculous. That is where Wilder gets a lot of slack from us.
However, we can’t simply turn on Heckingbottom now and lay the blame at his feet. Sure, performances haven’t been anything to write home about. Yet in the same breath, could we really expect a team that had won just four games all season to suddenly look like superstars?
Yet, there have been some positives. Against Chelsea, David McGoldrick should have had us level. We were in the ascendancy and McGoldrick should have scored. Those moments matter, like they have so often this year.
Against Leeds, we got back in the game but again, couldn’t take the chances and small margins that came our way. Wolves was a tight game again, while heavy losses to Arsenal and Spurs are hardly embarrassing. They beat better sides than us, at the end of the day.
Brighton showed some fight is in there at least. United defended well and Heckingbottom’s use of Ben Osborn as a roaming midfielder did pay off.
Once again, as Wilder used to talk about, we’re looking at fine margins. But this notion that the team wouldn’t have tasted such defeats with Wilder at the helm is simply hindsight and wishful thinking. Those losses were coming, regardless.
This Sheffield United team needs the season to end. Yes, they’ll keep going, they always do. But it’s demoralising and soul-crushing to keep turning up and getting beat. Anyone who has played football will recognise that.
A summer refresh is needed for all. And that includes in the dugout. We can’t go into next season with Heckingbottom in charge, can we?
But despite the wish for a new name to lead United, it’s harsh to criticise Heckingbottom. This Blades team was down and out before he even stepped into the fold. Coming in and managing that mood is tough in itself.
For now, then, we should cut Paul Heckingbottom some slack.