Paul Heckingbottom has stressed the need for there to be smiles on faces again at Sheffield United and says Sunday’s FA Cup clash with Chelsea could “change the whole outlook of the remainder of the season.”
Heckingbottom was put in caretaker charge of the Blades until the end of the campaign last weekend following boss Chris Wilder’s departure, and subsequently saw the Premier League basement boys thrashed 5-0 at Leicester.
The former Barnsley, Leeds and Hibernian manager, who had been working as Sheffield United’s Under-23s boss, spoke post-match of “anger and upset” in the dressing room after a game that “topped off an emotional week”.
On Friday, at his press conference ahead of the cup quarter-final at Chelsea, Heckingbottom emphasised the importance of looking forward.
“We certainly need to start changing the feel of the place and get smiles on people’s faces, players, staff, after what’s been a difficult few months culminating in a really tough week last week,” he said.
“It’s been a tough few months, but we need to look forward. So everyone has a responsibility to enjoy these remaining games – me as the man picking the team and motivating the staff, and the staff as the people working with the players, pushing them. That’s at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
“A good result, a cup run, a cup semi-final does the job for you, let’s not kid ourselves. So from my point of view I’m absolutely desperate to get through and get to the semi-final, it does our job for us.
“It’s the game in front of us, yes, but it can also change the whole outlook of the remainder of the season.”
They face a Chelsea outfit who are unbeaten in 10 league games under new boss Thomas Tuchel and advanced to the Champions League quarter-finals earlier this week.
Heckingbottom said of Sunday’s game: “In terms of motivation, the size of the game, and having a carrot dangled for you, it doesn’t come any bigger.
“So it’s a great game for us, a great game to just give everything in. It’s a one-off game, it’s something where anything can happen on that day, regardless of the form of and expectations for Chelsea.”
Wilder’s tenure saw the club rise from League One to the top flight and finish ninth last term before the disappointments of this season.
Heckingbottom said: “Regardless of results now we want standards and application to get back to the levels which saw the team have all that success, and just start laying those foundations for whatever comes next.
“There’s a lot of football left to be played, and two choices – roll your sleeves up and get stuck into everything, or roll over and just wish the season away.
“I’ve tried to make it really clear, and the boys understand, that if they’re putting the work in on the training ground and players are giving 100 per cent, they’ll get game time. That has to be a minimum.
“Results and performances hopefully we can improve, and will improve off the back of that. But there’s no time for anyone to feel sorry for themselves and we just have to keep applying ourselves – fantastic game this weekend and then for the remaining nine Premier League games.”