Sheffield United's Paul Heckingbottom cannot argue about speculation over his future - just work to try and end it
Last Friday there were reports Heckingbottom would lose his job at the weekend if the Blades were beaten at Arsenal. Despite a bruising 5-0 reverse, this was not the case and barring something very unexpected he will lead them at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday.
Injuries and a pitiful transfer budget only bolstered when the club sold its two best players – Sander Berge and Iliman Ndiaye – in the fortnight before the Premier League season kicked off are mitigating factors for a manager who took the club out of the Championship despite a difficult financial backdrop but one point from 10 games and minus 22 goal difference represents the worst start in the history of the rebranded top division.
So whilst admitting he was "annoyed" and "frustrated" by the speculation, Heckingbottom is too honest to claim it is unfair.
“No, because we are not winning," he said when asked. "We’re not winning, so it comes with the territory.
"If you watch us or the players, we will continue to do the job the best we can and push and push as best we can with the resources we have got. And that won’t change.”
Heckingbottom is in regular contact with owner Prince Abdullah Bin Mosaad Al Saud and chief executive Stephen Bettis but is not concerned about either coming out publicly to support him. Football chairman and chief executives have gone back so often and so quickly on the dreaded "vote of confidence" over history that it is often seen as anything but.
"I don’t need that,” said Heckingbottom.
“We speak all the time, about lots of issues – the club going forward, where we need to improve, where we need investment, the longer-term plan for the club regarding new training facilities, becoming a category one academy, which are priorities. We speak all the time."
The success Heckingbottom has enjoyed at Bramall Lane has come by ignoring distractions and this is no different.
"It has to be," he said, when asked if it was business as usual. "I have sat here lots of times and tried not to shirk any questions, whether about selling the club or a transfer embargo or selling players, and I’m trying not to shirk this, but I am the last person to be speaking to you about it. What I can say is what I am saying now.
“There is nothing to add about it. We go about our work, we enjoy what we do. But it’s a results business so there’s always going to be that when you’re not winning.
“You’ve got to approach every game to take the points. Some are tougher than others and Saturday proved that. We’ve taken other teams to the wire but there was definitely a gulf and we know some are going to be like that.
"We have more teams in the bottom half coming up but at this level I’m not sure it makes much difference. If we’re not at it and performing to our best we know it’ll be difficult but if we are, there’s no reason we can’t take points.”
Always reluctant to put timelines on injuries lest he be held to them, Heckingbottom said that Will Osula and Max Lowe are "not far away" from returning from injury and said of key duo Anel Ahmedhodzic and Ollie McBurnie: "It shouldn’t be long. This game is too early, the next game is a possibility. We want them back as soon as possible but we won’t risk anything.”
Others, such as left-sided defender Rhys Norrington-Davies, are still some way off.
“He’s not in our thoughts at the minute,” said Heckingbottom of a player who has been out for over a year with a knee injury. "We’re desperate for him to be back. When he comes back he’ll have missed a lot of football, we and he have to be patient when he is back. But it’ll be nice to get him amongst the group.”