Sheffield United: Intensity of Blades against Bristol City bodes well for rest of season

CONTRACTED to Sheffield United until 2027 – with the club having the option of extending his deal by a further year – Paul Heckingbottom is undeniably seen as the Blades’ manager for the long-term.

ON THE MARK: Sheffield United's Billy Sharp celebrates scoring the hosts' second goal against Bristol City at Bramall Lane. Picture: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

In the here and now, the club’s league position is also of key importance to the 44-year-old and after an encouraging first game in charge yesterday – which yielded a dominant 2-0 win over Bristol City – he is viewing a much healthier looking position in the Championship.

A first league goal at Bramall Lane for Rhian Brewster and a late strike from substitute Billy Sharp ensured that Heckingbottom was afforded a winning start on a day when United secured back-to-back league victories for just the second time this season.

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Results elsewhere over the weekend have seen the gap between the Blades and the play-off positions cut to six points. They are level on points with Chris Wilder’s Middlesbrough, while Huddersfield Town are four points adrift of the side currently occupying sixth spot in QPR.

GOOD START: Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom, pictured at Bramall Lane on Saturday. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Heckingbottom said: “It is three points better off and three points closer to the top. And that is the target.

“I kept trying to stress the other day that it is about this season, first and foremost. We will keep pushing and trying to claw teams back who are in front of us.

“We understand we are not going to win every game, but we will approach each game in the same way and go for the win.”

While it proved a day to savour for Heckingbottom, a maiden league strike on home soil at the 19th time of asking for Brewster may well also be significant.

Sheffield United's Rhian Brewster celebrates scoring his first-ever goal at BRamall Lane on Saturday. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

The travails of Brewster, a club record £23.5m signing in October 2020, have been well chronicled and Heckingbottom hopes the goal will be the precursor to better times for the striker – who has scored twice in his last three matches.

He will also be anxious that the slight hamstring issue which saw him make way for fellow striker Sharp in the 69th minute is nothing too concerning either.

The Blades chief, who also confirmed that Oli Norwood came off late on with a calf niggle, added: “We spoke about Rhian a hell of a lot at the end of last season.

“He is a great kid to be around and I really like him and every single person wants him to do well. He knows he is going to be pushed and we just hope he responds in the right way.

“We will assess Rhian and Oli. They were the only things that could possibly spoil a good day.”

It was a day when Heckingbottom saw several positive ticks in the box, with his side’s tempo prominent throughout, accompanied by a sound defensive performance en route to the Blades’ third successive clean sheet.

The fact that United maintained their intensity in what proved to be a game littered with stoppages – the biggest of which saw a delay of over 10 minutes while Robins’ defender Nathan Baker was attended to by medics before being stretchered off after suffering a head injury – was also pleasing for Heckingbottom.

He said: “We had the injuries and stoppages, but the players’ intensity was good when the ball was back in play and we managed to keep the game being played at our tempo. I was pleased with lots of things.

“Obviously, we missed early chances and you wanted one to go in to settle the nerves.

“So it was important we got that goal before half time and we were easily good value for 1-0. It should have been more.

“The second half was similar. We had 21 shots and it was still 1-0 and you were wondering if they are going to get a chance at the other end. So when the second goal went in, it was an important moment.”

Heckingbottom received a warm welcome when he, assistant Stuart McCall and first-team coach Jack Lester were introduced to the crowd just before kick-off and a good ovation at the final whistle after a strong home performance will have added to his sense of well-being.

The ex-Leeds United and Barnsley chief added: “The supporters were also fantastic to me last season as well.

“I really appreciate that and I think they understand I am going to give them my best. I enjoyed that (reception); not only me, but Jack and Macca (McCall) as well.

“We want the fans to be pleased and happy and I think they responded really well and it looked like they enjoyed the game. Everyone played their part and it was a good day.”