Sheffield United Premier League fixtures: Paul Heckingbottom on why a home start is perfect - and the fixture he is most looking forward to

Paul Heckingbottom. Picture: PAPaul Heckingbottom. Picture: PA
Paul Heckingbottom. Picture: PA
PAUL HECKINGBOTTOM has professed his happiness at Sheffield United being handed a home opener on their return to the Premier League - with the club's last top-flight season in 2020-21 largely played out at an empty Bramall Lane.

The Blades will welcome Crystal Palace on August 12 in their 2023-24 curtain-raiser in front of what will be a bumper crowd at S2.

You have to go back to March 2020 for the previous occasion when United's home was packed to the rafters for a Premier League fixture, with United beating Norwich 1-0 in front of 31,379 spectators in the club's final game before the onset of Covid-19 which changed the footballing landscape for the next season-and-a-half with games played in front of deserted arenas.

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Covid restrictions were partially lifted to allow 5,096 fans to attend United's last home game at this level - a 1-0 success over Burnley on the final day of the 2020-21 season when the Blades were relegated.

But United's next 'proper' occasion in front of what is likely to be a capacity crowd will be a much more special moment.

Heckingbottom said: "We are happy. A (opening) home game is always important.

"No matter with who we face, we were just happy with that home game. It's the day of the season where the excitement begins. We had the transfer window open (on Wednesday) and that's a big marker.

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"When the fixtures come out, that's another big marker and something for everyone to get excited about.

"To see the fixtures come out and look at the stadiums we are going to be playing at and know the calibre of player who are going to be going to Bramall Lane....Don't forget as well, the last time that Sheffield United went down was in front of no fans as well. That was a bit of a strange time.

"For us to be back in the mix and in the middle of that excitement, home and away and the atmosphere, it's what we are all looking forward to."

United also welcome champions Manchester City in the opening month of the campaign and face Spurs and Newcastle in September and fellow top-four candidates Manchester United and Arsenal before the end of October.

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Heckingbottom continued: "It's a tough start, but I don't think there are any easy games.

"You hear that said all the time, but you just have to look at last season and some many teams outperformed their expectations, while so many big clubs will want to do better this season.

"We are pleased to be in it and in the mix and we have worked so hard to get back there off and on the pitch."

Meanwhile, Heckingbottom says he is especially looking forward to United's visit to Liverpool in April, having never visited Anfield as a player or in a coaching/managerial capacity.

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He continued: "Just me from a personal point of view, I have still never been to Anfield as a player or coach to watch a game. I think it is the only stadium I have not been to in the country, so that will be one for me.

"But just to be back involved, this club deserves to be here. It's been a hard fight to get back and we are determined to enjoy it."

Pre-season begins for United in early July although many players will have a staggered return, with several being on international duty this month.Heckingbottom said: "We've got a lot of players on international duty which a lot of clubs have, which makes it a little bit different for the players and their individual programmes throughout the summer.

"We will have a staggered return with the majority of players coming back on the third of July. After that, they will be dripping in ones and twos before we get everybody back."