The Blades’ football was poor throughout a 5-0 defeat at Leicester City, but they showed spirit until subsiding in the final half-hour, conceding four goals.
Kelechi Iheanacho scored a hat-trick, with the others from Ayoze Perez, who had a first-half header brilliantly tipped onto the post by Aaron Ramsdale, and an Ethan Ampadu own goal.
After two days of behind-the-scenes negotiations, manager Chris Wilder left the club by mutual consent on Saturday night, with Heckingbottom only then having it confirmed he would be taking interim charge at the King Power Stadium, and for the rest of the season.
Many of the players had been part of one or both of the promotions Wilder won at Bramall Lane, and he signed the rest.
“I think it was the week taking its toll,” reflected Heckingbottom. “It was a difficult one to watch, a difficult one to be involved in and an emotional dressing room to be in at the end.
“It’s topped off a really difficult week for a lot of people.
“You don’t intentionally feel sorry for yourself but we’ve all suffered some sort of emotional strain, stress and you’re unaware of it half the time. It’s that sub-conscious emotional fatigue I thought crept into the game.”
Former Barnsley and Leeds United manager Heckingbottom’s own preparations were very far from ideal, overseeing an Under-23s game on Friday as Wilder’s departure was being finalised.
“I wasn’t working directly with Chris but he’s a mate and brought me to the football club,” said Heckingbottom, who spoke to Wilder a couple of times ahead of the game. “From everyone else’s point of view he was the leader on a daily basis who they shared a lot of good times and success with.
“I found out the possibility on Friday but I had an Under-23 game, so I had a Covid test during the game and I was waiting for the results of that, which got confirmed on Saturday, and confirmation Chris was going. I got the green light on Saturday night that I would be doing the game.
“I’m doing it until the end of the season or until I’m told otherwise and that’s it. That’s my focus.
“I feel a big responsibility to them because I know what they’re going through but I can’t let them feel sorry for themselves because whoever the next manager is will be watching. I can’t say it’s a nice situation but I think the fact I’ve done it before, I’ve been in Chris’s shoes and Knilly (Wilder’s former assistant Alan Knill)’s shoes and I’ve done this (been a caretaker) before as well helps me deal with it. I’ve been on the staff before and I’ve also been a player in situations like this.”
Former Bournemouth manager Jason Tindall was watching in the stands ahead of joining the coaching staff today, whilst Knill will stay on.
“The owners put to me that he (Tindall) might be coming in,” confirmed Heckingbottom. “I spoke with Jason but that was all in place because I didn’t know I would be doing the game officially until Saturday night and I drove down in the morning.
“I’d love Knilly to stay, he’s someone I respect massively and he’s been a big part of the success of this football club.”
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