Sheffield United finally learning from their mistakes

“Mistakes aren’t an issue,” insisted Paul Heckingbottom after watching Sheffield United beat Luton Town 2-0.

Mistakes make football. As the Blades demonstrated in defeat at Derby County the previous weekend, every beautiful goal usually owes something to the error which made it possible.

But you have to learn from them, and that is much easier with good teachers. Individually and collectively, Sheffield United did on Saturday.

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The first half was very reminiscent of Pride Park the previous weekend. To look simply at the numbers, the Blades had a good 45 minutes – 58 per cent of the ball, 10 shots on goal. It was another reminder that statistics only tell you so much because again there was a lack of intensity. You could hear it in the murmur around the stands, 27,780 fans not fully engaged in the first match at Bramall Lane in 55 days, not on the edge of their seats.

Jack Robinson celebrates his Sheffield United goal. Pictures: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

The players put that right with two goals in as many minutes at the start of the second half from Rhian Brewster, a centre-forward supporters have stuck by despite failing to repay his massive price tag with goals for far too long, and Jack Robinson, a centre-back whose mistakes have lived longer in many memories than his positive contributions. It was Robinson’s first goal for the club, Brewster’s third in six games having finally broken his league duck.

Going 2-0 up was unnervingly familiar too, even more so when former Hull City centre-back Reece Burke pulled Brewster down for a straight red card.

“Keep him on!” pleaded one supporter, his mind flicking back to Tuesday and going from two goals and one man up at Preston North End to draw 2-2. They had learnt from that too.

It was frustrating when Burke went off to see Heckingbottom withdraw Brewster – to boos – and replace him with Sander Berge. The 3-4-1-2 formation remained but Berge, who dropped into the hole, and Illiman Ndiaye, pushed alongside Billy Sharp, were each one line forward from their natural positions.

Rhian Brewster opens the scoring at Bramall Lane. Picture: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

But the game management worked, a clean sheet was kept. Better a slightly less thrilling 2-0 win than an exciting 2-2 draw. The whole game was a good advert for the players’ aptitude to take lessons on board, and the ability of the team around them to impart them. That went beyond Heckingbottom, or even the other two wise men he talked regularly with in his technical area, assistant Stuart McCall and head of performance Jack Lester.

“Luton have just beaten Bournemouth and Reading (games opposite number Nathan Jones argued drained the tank for Saturday) and they’ve caused teams all sorts of problems with the way they play,” stressed Heckingbottom. ”I don’t think they posed us any but they stopped us.

“We have to adapt then. We spoke about more from the front players in terms of quicker play in the final third, being available to receive the passes that get us up there and trying to create more overloads wide to get balls in the box.”

Brewster is Lester’s pet project and the Sheffield-born former centre-forward has 21st Century teaching aids at his disposal.

Referee Stephen Martin sends off Reece Burke of Luton Town. Picture: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

Twice in the first half, Brewster spun onto the ball and shot at goal. The first was weak, the second into the side netting. When Jayden Bogle’s 49th-minute shot was way off target, Brewster controlled it behind himself and put it into the net. The other key difference was where he shot from.

“He does extra analysis with Jack in the afternoon,” revealed Heckingbottom. “On Thursday he had half an hour with Jack on a couple of (video) clips. If it’s really relevant to your game you can transfer that and recognise when it’s happening on the pitch you can help yourself and your team.

“Likewise we used a couple of clips Alex (Delves) and Hayden (Whiting) got for us in the first half on the same subject so we can show him again at half-time. It’s okay me saying what I want but when you can show them as well it’s an extra little bit of detail.

“They (analysts Delves and Whiting) call in live while the games are going on. You can show a mistake, you can show key moments, everyone can see what a key moment is, but we want more than that – we want it to be relevant to how we want to play and the gameplan before the game. They should be looking out for certain aspects. The biggest thing’s Jack’s seen was all Rhian’s efforts on goal, there’s not enough between the goalposts. Saturday was perfect, that’s where he should be.”

Sheffield United's Rhian Brewster and Paul Heckingbottom share a smile. Picture: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

One thing Brewster does not lack is support. On top of the coaching back-up, those in the stands have been loudly willing his transfer to succeed since they were finally allowed back through the turnstiles. It means a lot.

Feelings towards Robinson have been more lukewarm but when he got on the end of Oliver Norwood’s free-kick – Luton’s mistake was leaving him in far too much space – he put his side 2-0 up. Because they had learnt from Deepdale, that was game over.

“People mention the mistake (by Robinson) at Wolves,” said Heckingbottom, trailing off when he realised he was in danger of starting a list, “but we’re going to make mistakes and it’ll not be mistakes that make people fall out of favour with me it’ll be a lack of effort, a lack of energy and a lack of bravery to get on the ball because we want to improve, we want to keep playing in a way that tests other teams.”

They also need a good learning environment and players wiling and able to make the most of it. In those respects, at least, the club is in a good shape.