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Paul Heckingbottom insists he will not gift games to Sheffield United youngsters

Eleanor Crooks, PA
·3-min read

Paul Heckingbottom will not be tempted to throw too many of Sheffield United’s young players into the fray over the last six matches of the season.

The Blades’ relegation was confirmed by defeat against Wolves last weekend, giving interim boss Heckingbottom the chance for a change of approach as focus turns to next season in the Sky Bet Championship.

Asked if he would opt to give the club’s young players some first-team action, Heckingbottom said: “We’ve introduced a few this season, we’ve had a couple of debuts, we’ve had different bodies on the bench, which is great, and we may have had more if it wasn’t for the Covid restrictions.

“It would be good but you can’t give them away. I’ve seen too much harm done when you’re giving debuts away for the sake of it.

“The facts back that up in terms of players making their first-team debuts – those making them at the beginning of a season have far more successful careers than those making them at the end of a season, because a lot of those are token gestures.”

In terms of summer recruitment, Heckingbottom – who expects to resume his job with the under-23s at the end of the season or before – does not believe wholesale changes are necessary.

“Comings and goings will all be taken care of in the close season as they always are,” he said. “In terms of conversations I’ve been part of, it’s all been about that – what do we think we need? What’s the most important thing going forward next season if the club want to do well?

“I’ve said you’ve got to keep the squad together. Good group of boys who are determined to do well. Add where we need to add with as much quality as possible. Is it going to speed up? I don’t know. You need to have a man in charge to make those decisions.”

With matches against Brighton, Burnley and Newcastle left in their fixture list, the Blades are likely to have a say in who joins them in the Championship next season.

Graham Potter’s side are up first, and Heckingbottom said: “They’re a good footballing team with lots of good ideas when they’re in possession of the ball and I’m expecting a good game. I enjoy watching them play.

“We’re trying to be really positive and keep producing performances with energy and playing on the front foot because, although our season’s over in terms of we know what our fate is, we’ve still got six games where we’ve got points we can win.

“Players are playing for their own pride and also their own careers so that’s our focus, that’s the importance of the game in front of us, and we’ll continue to do that in the remaining games.”

Heckingbottom expects to select from the same squad as for the Wolves game, with Sander Berge and Jack Robinson building up their fitness following lengthy injury absences.