The appointment of Paul Heckingbottom into the Sheffield United managerial hot seat has brought a renewed confidence to all those associated with Bramall Lane.
The players looked more than up for it in the win over Bristol City on Saturday. Supporters, too, packed into a bitterly cold Bramall Lane with renewed energy and hope. In the end, a 2-0 win was the ideal start for Heckingbottom.
But what about this squad? A squad tipped by so many to challenge for promotion is only just beginning to motor. It’s a squad with a pool of talent in, and players who are proven at Premier League and Championship level.
One of those players is Conor Hourihane. And the appointment of Paul Heckingbottom might just be the key to unlocking his potential.
A few weeks ago, Conor Hourihane was taken off before 35 minutes by Slavisa Jokanovic against Millwall. It was a statement from the now ex-Blades boss. But few – including Hourihane – could argue. The Irishman was dire and lost in the middle of the park. So much so, that some fans would have been happy to see his loan terminated there and then.
But since then, a mini-revival of sorts seems to be bubbling. Hourihane put in a solid enough 90 minutes against Coventry, before helping United see the game out in John Fleck’s absence at Reading.
On Sunday, Hourihane was heavily involved. He laid in the pass to allow Enda Stevens to set Rhian Brewster up. His work-rated was higher, and he got up and down the pitch with the energy ‘Hecky’ is demanding.
Certainly, it appears Conor Hourihane is showing signs of being the player we all know he is. And with Heckingbottom now ‘at the wheel’, there’s reason for Hourihane to be cheerful.
We have to go back to 15/16 season but the signs are there that Heckingbottom and Hourihane are a potent duo. During that season, the midfielder scored three and assisted six as he helped Barnsley out of League One.
The following year, under Heckingbottom again, Hourihane was super impressive. In 25 appearances, he notched six times, adding a further 12 assists in the process. Interestingly, he was also the skipper for the new Blades boss during this period.
There is no doubt, then, that Hourihane will have relished the thought of his old Barnsley boss being put in charge at The Lane. And with John Fleck now out for the foreseeable, Hourihane will never have a better chance to nail down that starting spot.
For a player who looked so lost under Jokanovic, the time has now come to show Bramall Lane what he is all about. In Conor Hourihane, Sheffield United might just have a secret weapon in the hands of Heckingbottom.