Paul Heckingbottom tuning to Sheffield United's DNA for top flight challenge - Alan Biggs

SHeffield United's Anel Ahmedhodzic and Ollie Norwood in action against Crystal Palace. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
SHeffield United's Anel Ahmedhodzic and Ollie Norwood in action against Crystal Palace. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

The club’s historic successes of the modern era have always been mostly about the collective - from Dave Bassett to Neil Warnock to Chris Wilder and now Paul Heckingbottom. Ironically, the difference this time - until a couple of weeks ago - was that they had three players rising significantly above the rest.

Had they all stayed, United would have stood a better than slim chance of staying in the top flight.

Only Anel Ahmedhodzic remains from a trio of talents you could regard of genuine Premier League quality.

And the backlash over the exits of Iliman Ndiaye and Sander Berge was fully understandable, indeed amplified here.

But this sort of thing is in the DNA of the club, stretching back to Mick Jones and Alan Birchenall in the 1960s, with numerous examples in between. Older fans recognise this, younger ones are sadly becoming attuned to it.

In a strange sort of way it plays into a traditional Blades strength, a defiance through sheer bloody-mindedness and the thrill of beating the odds.

That’s the spirit Heckingbottom is tuning into. And I think, as the dust settles, he can rely on it from the Bramall Lane faithful who realise manager and team are right up against it. But also right up for it. As Hecky concedes, it was always impossible to replace Ndiaye and Berge like for like.

It doesn’t matter how many players United bring in, on paper they are weaker. And his even bigger enemy is lost time, having had to scramble his squad together even as the season started.

He wants first choices now, “players to impact the eleven”, adding: “If they’re not, I’m not really interested. “You know our market. We’re not going to be signing ready-made Premier League players - but players who want to make the step up, who we think can make the step up. “We’ve just sold two really good players for a lot of money and we’ve been told we’ve got that to spend.”

With deals having to be signed off from above on an individual basis, you hope that holds true. Hecky has also been frustrated in his repeated exhortations to tie down the best players, with many in the final year of their contract.

But he has been careful not to make it personal. That is clever and wise, clearly a lesson learned from the acrimonious end to the Chris Wilder era. He’s a pragmatist, always looking forward rather than back; accepting his lot even if far from happy with it.