Preston North End v Sheffield United: Enough games left to reach play-offs, insists Paul Heckingbottom
The Sheffield United chief presided over a remarkable stint at former club Barnsley in his first foray into management in 2015-16 – when the Reds rose from late autumn relegation candidates to glory promotion in the play-offs in the space of six months.
The mid-table Blades find themselves in a very similar position to where Barnsley were six years ago and in one of the most open Championship campaigns in a long time, Heckingbottom strongly believes his side have the potential to punch through dams.
Mid-table United are ten points adrift of the sixth-place side at Middlesbrough, but have games in progress on all teams above them.
Heckingbottom, who will return to the shelter tonight after completing his isolation following a positive Covid test, said: ‘It’s strange. There are so many teams ahead of us, so you think it’s going to be difficult. But there are still a lot of games.
“Everyone still has to play each other and we also have a disparity in the number of games played and we have a lot of games left in other teams.
“At the minute it’s about doing everything we can to get another race to pick up points and we’ll fight for everyone.
“I’ve watched the fixtures as well and we’re going to have a big chunk of our last twenty games at home and we have to try to capitalize on that.”
To give United the best chance of making the top six, some timely transfer activity would certainly help Heckingbottom’s cause.
He has now changed his defensive focus after losing in the race to sign in-demand Hearts centre-half Jon Souttar.
The 25-year-old had talks with the Blades and Blackburn Rovers but opted to sign a pre-contract deal with SPL champions Rangers.
On his desire to bring in a new defensive option, Heckingbottom added: “It has been a priority. We were taken aback against Wolves and we need a player there, but a good player.
“We could go get one (tomorrow), but we want a good player to help us improve in terms of style of play, age of the player and potential for improvement. We consider everything.
Meanwhile, former Preston defender Ben Davies will miss a return to his former club tonight after testing positive for Covid on Monday.
On the incoming front, the Blades have also been linked with moves for Stoke City goalkeeper Frank Fielding and Middlesbrough winger Marcus Browne, but Heckingbottom remains coy about who all the targets are.
Goalkeeper Robin Olsen is set to move to Aston Villa, with parent club AS Roma looking to recall him from his loan spell to allow him a move to the Midlands.
The Sweden international can only return to Roma if the Blades give the green light, with the club likely to sanction his departure if he can put current No1 Wes Foderingham in cover.
Heckingbottom added: “We have to make sure that as a club we are in a position where we can bring someone in.
“I spoke with Robin, he understands and everyone understands. That’s all we have.
“Frank is on a temporary internship at another club. We have been in contact with the goalkeepers we believe are available and until we know we can sign one we cannot let Robin go.
Last six games: Preston DLWWDD; Sheffield United WWWWLL.
Referee: D Webb (Co. Durham).
Last seen: Preston 0 Sheffield United 1, April 6, 2019; Championship.