Paul Heckingbottom has given Sheffield United the promotion credentials lacking under Jokanovic – Nathan Hemmingham

Yesterday’s hard-fought draw at Huddersfield was another point on the board for Sheffield United under Paul Heckingbottom and another step in the right direction.

A point that moved them into eighth place and in a great position to enter the play-off race with three home games on the spin to come.

But it was a point that they might not have got had this fixture been prior to Heckingbottom’s arrival.

Indeed, United have picked up seven points from their last three matches – a decent return.

Yet, it’s hard to argue in favor of that being the case earlier in the season, when United looked vulnerable under sustained periods of pressure, the type of which Huddersfield subjected the visitors to yesterday.

However, one of the main differences under Heckingbottom’s United is that they look more than primed for a promotion battle.

They are finding ways to win matches, grinding our results and, more importantly which was key to their success in 2018-19, now keeping clean sheets.

During that promotion-winning campaign, Dean Henderson kept 21 blanks, and yesterday’s shut-out was Wes Foderingham’s ninth of the campaign.

Under Heckingbottom, it was their sixth in 10 matches, while under Slavisa Jokanovic United kept just five in 19.

In fairness to Huddersfield yesterday, United were a touch fortunate to keep the hosts at bay, with a disallowed goal and three penalty shouts going in their favour.

But the difference is clear.

Having handed out a fair few gifts at the back under Jokanovic, United are no longer a soft touch in that respect.

They are much more resolute at the back, with the switch to a three rather than a four a big reason for that, but having been so fragile for the first part, one of Heckingbottom’s big successes is that he’s managed to address that mentality and they now have the credentials for a promotion push.

“100%,” Heckingbottom agreed.

“That’s what good teams look like.

“You have to earn everything when you play us, that’s what we say to the players when you are playing us, you have got to be a good team to beat us.

“We would have loved to have beaten them and taken their unbeaten record, but they are playing well and you have to respect that and you can see why.

“There were moments in the second half when the crowd get up and it’s been breaking one way and then the other and there’s a big tackle that’s the bit I love – I am stood on the side and I am enjoying those moments and I think the players are beginning to enjoy those moments again.

Chris Basham challenges Josh Koroma

“I really fancy us when the game gets stretched and it becomes that type of game.

“If you enjoy those moments and enjoy that type of atmosphere and that test then you are going to play better.

“You cannot shy away from those types of things and that’s probably a big reason why.”

United trail sixth-placed Middlesbrough by three points, but have a game in hand on Chris Wilder’s side.

Nottingham Forest, in seventh, have only a one-point advantage having played two games more.

United entertain Hull on Tuesday evening, before welcoming Swansea to Bramall Lane on Saturday and then face another crucial clash four days later against Blackburn in a triple-header on home soil.

A similar return from their last three, or even better, and United could well have gatecrashed that top six picture.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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