Paul Heckingbottom: Sheffield United boss defiant amid calls for Blades sacking

2 December 2023 0 By Total Football News

Paul Heckingbottom was called a "goner" by one pundit but the Sheffield United boss says he "can walk out of this stadium with my head held high" after a morale-crippling 5-0 defeat by Burnley.

Excluding Everton with their 10-point deduction, this was the meeting of the two worst Premier League teams this season.

Burnley started the day bottom, had lost every one of their home games this season and had never won a Premier League game by five goals - and they obliterated the Blades.

With one win in the Premier League and 39 goals conceded in 14 games, Sheffield United are bottom and four points from safety.

"I know how hard I work for everyone at the club and that won't change," said Heckingbottom, who has been Blades boss since 2021 and led them to promotion last season.

"The staff will do the same, we will continue to give everything we have got with what we have got. The first time I got asked this, however, many months ago [about his future]... you are asking the wrong person.

"The fans are right to shout that wasn't good enough and I was almost singing along with them at one point."

'It could've been two reds... it was so stupid'

It all started after 15 seconds, the quickest Premier League goal of the season. Burnley took the kick-off, played it back to keeper James Trafford and then went forward quickly with Jay Rodriguez heading in Charlie Taylor's cross.

"The game plan wasn't to dangle two legs in two tackles and then allow a delivery into the box," said Heckingbottom.

"We picked a team we thought was experienced, aggressive and could manage these situations. To start the game like that put us on the back foot."

Former England captain Alan Shearer, on BBC Match of the Day, called the Blades "a disgrace".

"Burnley battered Sheffield United," he said. "If you have a team who have given everything, you say 'fair enough'. The fans accept that, the manager accepts that.

"Today they were a disgrace. From the first minute, they lost three tackles in three or four seconds. It summed them up."

Jacob Bruun Larsen doubled Burnley's lead but the moment the game really ebbed away from them was Oli McBurnie's red card.

The Scot had been lucky to avoid a straight red earlier when he was booked for elbowing Dara O'Shea in the face. And then he shoved his arm into the same player's face again and got a second booking, for his second red card of the season.

Asked if McBurnie had let the team down, the boss said: "He has let me know; he knows he has."

Former Celtic striker Chris Sutton, watching the game for the BBC, called the striker an "idiot".

"To go and do the same foul, for which he was lucky not to see red the first time, when your team is 2-0 down and the manager is under pressure, is so stupid from McBurnie," he said.

"He got two yellows but he could easily have gotten two reds."

'The fans will know who stuck at it for 90 minutes'

The 10-man Blades made a triple change at the break and reached the 73rd minute without any further damage. But the Clarets scored three more in the final 17 minutes and hit the woodwork another two times.

"Some things weren't good enough," said Heckingbottom. "It was more about which shape would keep us in the game. We did what we wanted and then were were sloppy. One or two didn't manage the situation, the occasion and it became really difficult.

"Sometimes, players can play their way out of the team.

"One or two stuck to the task and cause but whether those players are good enough to remain at this level... You can still see that, the fans will know those who have gone out there and stuck at it for 90 minutes.

"We want everyone to do that and if we are not good enough, then we are not good enough. We have done that in games but that has to be a minimum. You can't be scared to take the ball and give it away or be scared to put your head in to stop a goal."

Sheffield United playersSheffield United have only won one Premier League game this season

'I think Heckingbottom is a goner'

Sheffield United have conceded 39 goals in 14 games so far. Only one team in Premier League conceded more in their opening 14 fixtures - Barnsley let in 40 in 1997-98. They were relegated.

Burnley fans sang that Heckingbottom would be getting sacked in the morning, with some Blades fans on social media calling for the board to make a change.

"If the fans start changing, it changes the dynamic," he said. "It doesn't [change] how I feel, it doesn't change my job.

"Whether you are a player getting the stick or manager, I said to the players in there I can walk out with my head held high, I know I can, but you can't kid people."

Sutton said afterwards: "I think Paul Heckingbottom is a goner.

"Losing consecutively, and so convincingly, to two relegation rivals in Bournemouth and now today against Burnley, I don't think he can survive that.

"To be humiliated like they were at home to Bournemouth last week and now to concede five goals today, I think patience will run out."

No Premier League teams have switched manager since the start of the season - compared with five changes by this stage of last term. How long will that record last?

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