Paul Heckingbottom pleased with Sheffield United's greater attacking threat despite another defeat

Paul Heckingbottom was able to take plenty of encouragement from Sheffield United's greater attacking threat in their 2-1 defeat to Manchester United.

Even thought they scored goals on the counter-attack, the Blades played very negative gameplans in their narrow defeats to Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.

But they were much more forward-thinking against the Red Devils, dominating the early exchanges, only for the greater quality and depth of the visitors to hold sway.

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When Scott McTominay gave the visitors the lead it was against the run of play and quickly cancelled out by an Oli McBurnie penalty but Diogo Dalot won the game with a brilliant long-range finish after his side had hit the woodwork once in each half.

So you could not say the result was undeserved, but Heckingbottom was pleased with the fight his side showed after the deomralising blow of losing Anel Ahmedhodzic in the run-up to the game, and McBurnie during it.

"In most games we've shown more than enough that we can compete but we're playing against good players," he argued.

"Lots of things pleased me in that. We've suffered horrendously (with injuries) in the last 10 days – captain, vice-captain and two more players (Tom Davis and Anel Ahmedhodzic) but I think you know we're not going to sulk or moan about it, it's an opportunity for others.

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"We'll always prepare properly and make sure we're in a position where everyone's really clear on what their roles are and how to best approach the game but I thought we looked more of a threat tonight.

SATISFACTION: Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom (right)SATISFACTION: Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom (right)
SATISFACTION: Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom (right)

"We were considering changing shape anyway to get certain personnel in slightly different positions on the pitch, which we felt would help us out. We've had a formation change forced on us because we've only got four fit (senior) defenders but there were lots of things that really pleased me that we have to build on.

"Today we had more of an all-round threat. It didn't just look like us holding on for a point – yes, I get United had more pressure in terms of possession but the best chances apart from us giving the ball were from 25 yards and lo and behold it's one of those that goes in.

"But at the other end we had moments. We've been in so many good positions in the first eight games and not got an attempt from it.

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"Today we had slightly different personnel in those positions and we got more attempts on goal, more on target, it resulted in more touches in the opposition box and I still think we could have been better.

"That was the difference."

Ahmedhodzic has been sent for a scan after injuring his hamstring jumping for a ball in training.

McBurnie was substituted early in the second half after injuring his groin in the first.

Heckingbottom's opposite number Erik ten Hag conceded that the first half had belonged to the Blades, but was pleased with the way the visitors improved after the interval.

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"First half it was a poor game from our side," he reflected.

"We see it often after internationals, especially from us with so many changes.

"In the first half we allowed them to make it their game.

"We were too direct, no good organisation. In the second half we made some changes at half-time and we got better constructions, we kept the ball, we were not so direct and we made switches. We created chances and it was deserved.

"It was a beautiful goal (to win the game)."

The match was played hours after the death of Manchester United and England legend Sir Bobby Charlton was announced, and the Dutchman was happy to mark it with a victory.

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"We are really sad and our thoughts are with his family, especially his wife, Lady Norma, his children and grandchildren," said ten Hag.

"He was a legend, a giant passing away and his achievements are so immense and huge – global.

"If you see the effects of what he achieved, it was incredible.

"I never had the honour to meet him but I heard despite all his trophies and games he was so humble and a big personality. He was a big example for all of us as a footballer and also for society."

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Heckingbottom met Charlton the day he signed for Manchester United as a teenage footballer and called him the epitome of what the club wanted to be.

"I was with him the day I signed as a 14 year-old," he recalled.

"He was a man that represented everything I think that (Manchester) United wanted to be in terms of developing youth players, getting youth players into the first team, the success.

"It's not only Manchester United that will miss him. English football (will) and I think he was a football icon across the world."