Sheffield United boss Paul Heckingbottom believes star attacker Iliman Ndiaye is ‘nowhere’ near reaching his peak yet despite his man of the match display against Fulham yesterday evening, speaking to The Star post-match.
It was the Frenchman who scored the winner for the Blades in the third minute, taking the ball down and dribbling past the halfway line before firing the ball into the bottom left-hand corner in what was a wonderful solo goal, but proving to be a real asset throughout the game.
Continuing to justify his contract extension at the start of September, the 21-year-old managed to hit the ground running at Craven Cottage despite not playing in the South Yorkshire outfit’s past three matches as he lined up alongside the experienced Billy Sharp.
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He had made just one senior appearance for the Blades coming into this season, but has appeared in 15 competitive games already this term as he becomes more accustomed to life in the EFL, first joining the club from non-league outfit Boreham Wood in 2019.
Despite his inexperience, he emerged as a real option for ex-boss Slavisa Jokanovic to utilise right from the early stages of 2020/21 and has continued to thrive under 44-year-old Heckingbottom, putting himself in contention for another start against Preston North End on Boxing Day.
He received huge plaudits on social media for his crucial role in yesterday’s victory against the current league leaders – but his boss believes there’s still a lot more to come from the forward after proving his worth in such a big game.
Speaking to the Sheffield Star after the match, Heckingbottom said: “Iliman, we’ve not seen the best of him yet. Nowhere near in fact.
“I thought he performed really well. On the ball, obviously with the goal he scored because that was excellent. But also off it. His work rate was top class, really top drawer.
“There was a real willingness from him to help out defensively and try and win the ball back.
“He’s coachable and is a real hard worker. I’m delighted to be working with him and I’m looking forward to working with him a lot more in the future.”
At just 21 and with less than 20 senior appearances under his belt, Heckingbottom is safe to say we haven’t seen the best of the 21-year-old yet and that can only be a promising sign, because he’s already adapted well to life in the EFL.
He may not have been in the best goalscoring form, only getting on the scoresheet for the third time this season after scoring a brace against Peterborough in September, but that will come and with experienced forwards like Sharp and David McGoldrick at his disposal, that can only help.
Although they are still proving to be great assets in the second tier, the latter duo’s responsibility is to bring some of the younger forwards through like Ndiaye, Rhian Brewster and Oliver McBurnie.
The one thing that could be a hindrance to his United career is the competition that surrounds him, but Heckingbottom may look to cash in on one or two forwards during the winter window to address other key areas and provide some of his attackers with as much game time as possible.
But he should be in contention for another start on Boxing Day after putting in such a superb performance all over the pitch – and to be fair – not starting him would send out the wrong message to the Blades’ players considering how well he played.