Sheffield United striker Oli McBurnie given fresh start under Blades boss Paul Heckingbottom

Oli McBurnie has not scored a league goal for Sheffield United in 40 appearances stretching back to early December 2020. Paul Heckingbottom says the only ones he cares about are his most recent.

The Leeds-born striker’s goal return has been a constant source of frustration since his £20m move from Swansea City in 2019. In that time he has only managed eight in all competitions.

In Tuesday’s 0-0 draw at home to Hull City the Scotland international got himself into some good positions but missed a string of chances – some more difficult than others. And whilst that is a concern to Heckingbottom, the bigger picture is not.

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“I’m not bothered about the games he didn’t play for me, at all,” insisted Heckingbottom. “It’s like a fresh start and the expectancy is different, what we ask for from the players. I know what he can do, what type of lad he is and what he can do in this league. We’ve already seen a big improvement and that’s transferred onto the pitch.

Oli McBurnie has struggled for goals at Sheffield United.  Picture: Andrew Yates / SportimageOli McBurnie has struggled for goals at Sheffield United.  Picture: Andrew Yates / Sportimage
Oli McBurnie has struggled for goals at Sheffield United. Picture: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

“We could be saying totally different things if one of his chances (against Hull) goes in, but that’s the fine margins and we accept that.”

Injury restricted McBurnie to two starts and a substitute appearance during Heckingbottom’s time as caretaker manager last season. Since he took the job permanently in November, McBurnie has been held back by injury, Covid isolation, then the virus itself as well as the form of top-scorer Billy Sharp. He had made five substitute appearances for Heckingbottom before a first start at Huddersfield Town last week, followed by a second on Tuesday.

Explaining why he thinks McBurnie’s time under previous managers Chris Wilder and Slavisa Jokanovic is so irrelevant, Heckingbottom said: “I want him to be a different person and he’s showing me he can work that way. I’m judging him on the games he’s played (for Heckingbottom) and that’s how it’ll be going forward. I’ll have no problems if he applies himself as he has done.

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“I’m trying to be honest and say where he is and I’m happy with where he is. I can see improvements every day in everything he does and if that continues, we’ll see goals.”

Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom. Picture: Isaac Parkin/SportimageSheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom. Picture: Isaac Parkin/Sportimage
Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom. Picture: Isaac Parkin/Sportimage

Sharp, though, remains first-choice striker, and the 36-year-old is likely to be recalled at home to Swansea tomorrow after being rested against the Tigers.

“I said this to Bill and the other forwards – he earned the right to be my first pick last time (during his caretaker spell) with his workrate and work off the ball,” said Heckingbottom. “He’s pushed his way into the team, he understands his role for the team with and without the ball and he’s been leading the line great.

“We need everyone else to be able to perform like that as well. If we get people past the standards Bill has set we’ll improve the team and Bill will fight and fight to go past them again because that’s the type of lad he is.”

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The Blades’ last two matches have ended 0-0 but Heckingbottom pointed to the nature of them as to why he is not panicking at the lack of cutting edge.

Sheffield United's Oli McBurnie gets a shot in against Hull City. Picture: Simon Bellis / SportimageSheffield United's Oli McBurnie gets a shot in against Hull City. Picture: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
Sheffield United's Oli McBurnie gets a shot in against Hull City. Picture: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

“I’m not concerned because you look at the game and it’s a case of how didn’t we score rather than not looking like scoring,” he said. “We did everything but and if any of those chances go in, it’s a totally different dynamic.

“We think a lot of games will be like (Tuesday), when teams come and sit in and slow it down, but we performed in a way we were happy with.”

Meanwhile, Heckingbottom is trying to manage Jayden Bogle’s knee problem through the rest of the season, and hopes he can do so without a long lay-off for the influential right wing-back.

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“He’s got an issue on his knee which we’re going to try and manage, we’re trying to settle it down and hopefully we can get him on the pitch,” he explained.

“It’s probably going to be week to week and game to game. If it was a long period of time (he will be out for), we’d probably look to get it rectified. He’s had a scan so we know the problem.

“If it came to the point he was having to miss so much football anyway, we’d intervene and get something done but we’re confident we’ll get him through to the end of the season and keep him involved.

“We’ve been really pleased with him, he’s been fantastic.

“Everyone knew what a good player he is, he had a spell in the Premier League and did well and he’s added a good dynamic to how we play.”

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Heckingbottom is fortunate to have a high-quality alternative in George Baldock, a mainstay during the club’s last promotion-winning season as well as the subsequent campaign which saw United finish ninth in the Premier League.

Ben Osborn should be back in training next week but is still some way off making his first appearance since playing as a substitute against boyhood club Derby County in mid-January. Enda Stevens’s muscle injury remains more of a mystery.

“Hopefully Ben will get some sort of integration into the squads next week,” said Heckingbottom. “He won’t be fit to play (at home to Swansea City on Saturday).

“With Enda it’s slow, with the nature of the injury, between the muscles. It depends how he recovers and when he’s ready. It’s on how he responds to the rehab.”

The Blades have 16 Championship matches to play by May 7 – then, they hope, three play-off games.

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