Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom has lauded centre-back Jack Robinson for stepping up to the plate as he played a crucial part in the Blades’ 1-0 victory against Fulham on Monday evening, as he spoke to The Star.
With Ben Davies missing the game due to personal reasons and the South Yorkshire outfit not recruiting another centre-back to compensate for the long-term absence of Jack O’Connell, Robinson was the man to step in at centre-half alongside John Egan and Chris Basham having last made a league appearance in mid-September.
Since then, ex-boss Slavisa Jokanovic’s flat back four system and/or other options in central defence have kept him out of the starting lineup, although new manager Heckingbottom looks set to play a back three for the foreseeable future after enjoying success with his current formation.
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Jokanovic also experienced better results and performances utilising three central defenders towards the end of his tenure at Bramall Lane – and this success could boost the 28-year-old’s chances of winning more regular first-team football.
After his performance at Craven Cottage, he is in with a shout of retaining his starting spot ahead of Boxing Day’s clash with Birmingham City, though it remains to be seen whether United’s boss will place a new centre-back at the top of his wishlist ahead of the January transfer window.
Regardless of this, Heckingbottom has nothing but praise for the 28-year-old who was singled out despite being part of a three-man unit at the heart of defence as they managed to keep out the league’s top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic.
He said to the Sheffield Star: “He’s been training really hard. He’s not played for a long time and been working hard to play at the level required of him.
“I had no doubt he could perform like that. He stepped up at the end of last season when I put him in, and he was a big part of the last few games when we won a few and kept clean sheets.
“He can be proud of how he played and we’ll have more people who need to stand up, with injuries and suspension and Covid times.
“We’ll need more to stand up before the end of the season.”
Bringing in another centre-back would be a good idea considering the nature of O’Connell’s injury – and there are no guarantees he played play for the Blades again – making it important they address this position next month.
Heckingbottom seems to be taking United in the right direction and there’s little chance of him switching to a back four anytime soon, so there wouldn’t be any risk of there being too many central defenders in the squad.
At this time especially with Covid cases flying about, having options will be crucial to their chances of reaching the play-offs as the season progresses. There’s also the possibility of Davies being recalled by Liverpool, so that’s another thing to consider.
Robinson has shown he can step up though – but consistency in his performances will be key if he wants to keep his place in the starting lineup.
Whether he gets that opportunity with regular starter Davies potentially coming back in time for Boxing Day remains to be seen, but not giving him another chance may send out the wrong message to the Blades’ squad, one reason why Heckingbottom may opt to start Robinson again.