Sheffield United started the Paul Heckingbottom era with a 2-0 victory over Bristol City at Bramall Lane this afternoon, thanks to goals from Rhian Brewster and Billy Sharp.
Heckingbottom has taken over at The Lane this week, replacing Slavisa Jokanovic in-charge of this multi-million pound squad.
Despite all Sheffield United’s shortcomings under Jokanovic, they’d kept back-to-back clean sheets and picked up four points from their final two games under his watch.
A good platform, then, for Heckingbottom to hit the ground running, you’d think.
The Blades started well enough, with Brewster inches from converting a Morgan Gibbs-White cross inside the opening two minutes.
Gibbs-White’s start was a lively one; constantly involved in the build-up play, creating further half-chances for himself and Brewster.
The Wolves loanee’s long diagonal on 17 minutes brought another opening, as David McGoldrick and Enda Stevens combined, crossing for Jayden Bogle, who headed over.
One wing-back to another; a tactic Heckingbottom will be looking to chip into like his predecessor’s predecessor.
Bristol City did well to kill the early momentum Heckingbottom’s side had built and forced Wes Foderingham into a diving save when Chris Martin met Alex Scott’s corner.
However, there was a determination about Sheffield United to wrestle back control and Brewster opened the scoring on 40 minutes, turning and shooting after good work from Conor Hourihane and Stevens.
Neither Chris Wilder nor Jokanovic were able to chip into the undoubted talent the England U21 international has. Maybe Heckingbottom can, feeding him with confidence by selecting him over captain, Sharp.
The football became secondary in the early part of the second-half, as Nathan Baker received treatment following a collision with Chris Basham. Both sets of supporters united in applauding Nigel Pearson’s centre-back as he was stretchered off.
As the game resumed, Heckingbottom watched his goalscorer hobble out of the action, as Tyreeq Bakinson and Gibbs-White traded shots on goal.
John Egan headed wide twice and Daniel Bentley tipped a Sharp volley over the crossbar as Heckingbottom stood, arms folded, as his side looked to kill the game.
They did that on 89 minutes as neat play in the midfield sent McGoldrick into space on the right. His cross found Sharp, who bundled beyond Bentley.
That’s a tried and trusted combination, which has bred goals at this level before for Sheffield United.
Jokanovic admitted defeat in his final fixtures at the helm, surrendering to calls from the terrace and playing a wing-back system that’s brought this club all their recent success.
Heckingbottom hasn’t done anything revolutionary, he’s simply put round pegs in round holes. And, boy, do these players look better for it.
FT: Sheffield United 2-0 Bristol City.