Paul Heckingbottom’s defiant stance on Sheffield United future after Arsenal hammering turns up pressure

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 28: Paul Heckingbottom, Manager of Sheffield United, looks dejected as he applauds the fans at full-time following their team's defeat in the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Sheffield United at Emirates Stadium on October 28, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

A defiant Paul Heckingbottom insisted he will keep fighting for Sheffield United after a 5-0 hammering at Arsenal increased the pressure further on his position. A hat-trick from Eddie Nketiah, plus Fábio Vieira’s penalty and a close-range finish from Takehiro Tomiyasu, saw United ship five goals for the second time in what is shaping up to be a sorry season.

The Blades in return barely laid a glove on their illustrious opponents as their winless start to the season. Their effort so far is the worst start in Premier League history, with one point from 10 games and a minus-22 goal difference, and only two teams have picked up one point or fewer from their first 10 games - United in 2020/21, and the class of 2023/24.

All that adds to the pressure on Heckingbottom’s shoulders, exacerbated by a remarkable injury crisis and a hesitant summer in the transfer market. But Heckingbottom was defiant in his post-match media duties as he discussed the “noise” about his job, with reports in the national media touting former boss Chris Wilder for a spectacular return in place of Heckingbottom.

On the horizon is a more palatable run of fixtures for the Blades, with the likes of Wolves, Bournemouth and Burnley all to play in the coming weeks and months. But United are now in the situation where they desperately need points, rather than plaudits.

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“The players are great. I’ve been really clear on this, they know they’re going to get everything from me and one of the things we have to maintain is a positivity,” Heckingbottom said. “Our season is not going to be defined by a trip to the Emirates. We’ve not prepared for that.

“We’ve played six of the top nine and now we’re coming into a little spell where we play a lot of the teams around us. These are big moments, regardless of what we’ve got missing and personnel we’ve got or how many bodies. These are the games we’ve got to really attack.

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“And this will be exactly the same. Unfortunately for you guys, in these sorts of situations I’m the one who probably isn’t the best talking about it. But you do know that I’ll continue to do my best, to fight for these players and this team and this club. Anyone who knows me knows that. All the noise, everything people say, if there’s anything in it or not. As far as I’m concerned you’ve got to ignore it.”