George Baldock interview: Sheffield United defender explains how Paul Heckingbottom saved the Blades’ season | Soccer News

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When Sheffield United were relegated after their second season back in the Premier League, their final tally of 23 points went down as the seventh-lowest comeback in the competition’s history.

Given that – and the fact that their 29 defeats represented a joint record – there was every reason for an upset at Bramall Lane last summer. With Chris Wilder stepping down as manager in March, the new boss would also have a clean slate to build from.

Interim boss Paul Heckingbottom has left his role as U23 manager to oversee the final 10 games of 2020/21, guiding the Blades to three wins along the way, suggesting he could be that man.

“I would be lying if I said there was a happy atmosphere at the club at the time – there wasn’t,” defender George Baldock said in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports.

Picture:
George Baldock has made 25 appearances for Sheffield United this season

“We had such a good time in the first season in the Premier League and it was all sunshine and rainbows. Last year was tough, especially with the manager [Wilder] To go. I had a special relationship with him for so long, but when Paul Heckingbottom came along he really lifted everyone’s spirits.

“He wouldn’t allow anyone to feel sorry for himself. The season was over, in terms of relegation, and it was just about restoring some pride. We won a few games, which was nice, and we started to look a little more like us.

“It gave us a chance to prepare for the return to the Championship, but there was also the element of the unknown because we didn’t know who the manager was going to be, what philosophy would be in place and things like that. “

In the end, the club opted for glamor over continued stability and Slavisa Jokanovic was the chosen candidate to take the club forward.

Slavisa Jokanovic only lasted 19 games as Blades boss after his appointment last May
Picture:
Slavisa Jokanovic only lasted 19 games as Blades boss after his appointment last May

“It’s a famous thing to say, ‘We need time,'” he said sky sports in an interview last August.

“OK, me and the technical staff need time but I don’t ask the fans for it. They pay the tickets to enjoy the team and the victories. I know what the fans want. Our job is to make them happy . It’s part of the deal.”

The feeling was there and, in fairness, the Serb’s key experience was also evident: he knocked Watford out of the league in 2015 and then did the same with Fulham three years later.

There were always start-up problems – that’s to be expected after relegation. What wasn’t part of the deal fell to second bottom after no wins, three losses and one goal scored in the first five games.

Perhaps it was down to his decision to switch from the Blades’ 3-5-2 system, which had worked so well during the Wilder years, to a 4-2-3-1 with a possession-based approach, but the results did not improve enough thereafter and, with the club sitting 16th after 19 games, on 25 November Jokanovic left.

Sheff Utd’s record under Heckingbottom against Jokanovic

Manager Cheek Won Drawn Lost
Slavisa Jokanovic 19 6 5 8
Paul Heckingbottom 25 13 7 5

“It was just frustrating to start this year so slowly and to catch up all year,” Baldock said.

I don’t have a bad word to say about him [Jokanovic]. He was really good, really professional and he obviously knows his stuff. He is a highly respected manager. But I’ve been at Sheffield United for five seasons and I know what the fans expect.

“They like their good football, but they also like fast and aggressive football with pressing and physicality and we just walked away from that and lost our identity a bit. Who knows, if he had persisted it might have -be successful in the end.”

On the same day Jokanovic left less than six months into a three-year contract, Heckingbottom was again brought in to oversee first-team proceedings – this time on a permanent basis.

So what has changed?

“It was as smooth as any manager change I’ve had!” adds Baldock with a smile. “He walked straight in, everyone knew him and everyone knew his face because he was always around the place under the last management.

“Everyone felt comfortable with him, but he has this advantage where you’re not too comfortable with him; you always train on the edge, you play on the edge; your shirt doesn’t is never set in. Everyone has raised their game, like you do with a new manager, you want to impress.

Paul Heckingbottom has guided the Blades from 16th to 6th place since taking over from Jokanovic in November
Picture:
Paul Heckingbottom has guided the Blades from 16th to 6th place since taking over from Jokanovic in November

“He picked up where he left off and everyone loves him around him. I see a lot of similar traits to Chris Wilder in the way he does things, but he’s also his own manager and that’s probably something he would repeat.

“I think the obvious change to mention is the formation. Everyone was comfortable in their positions – that doesn’t mean these players can’t play in different positions – because a lot of players had been signed for a specific system under Chris Wilder for so long.

“Under the previous manager it was that transition period of playing a different formation, a different way of playing and a bit slower in building. It just didn’t click for one reason or another. Hecky is just went back to basics, went back to the 3-5-2 formation and tweaked it slightly in different plays.

“But it was more the training standards and the intensity that went through the roof, which I – and a lot of the players – have been used to at this club. You just saw that on a match day; everyone world was a lot more intense. When you play at that intensity, you cause a lot more problems for opposing teams.”

His tweaks also worked. Since his appointment, Sheffield United have emerged from the bottom half after 13 wins and seven draws in 25 games in charge. This was exactly what Heckingbottom envisioned – some fans must be wondering where the club would be had they started the season in charge.

Sheffield United’s remaining matches

  • QPR (A) – Friday 29 April, 7.45pm – Live on Sky Sports
  • Fulham (H) – Saturday May 7, 12:30 p.m.

“When Hecky first came in, we had a meeting and he looked everyone in the eye and said, ‘This season isn’t over guys,’ Baldock continued. ‘And he did. said with such confidence.

“We knew as players we were good enough to beat anybody in the league that day; it was just about finding that consistency and recreating that momentum. He told us again that the season didn’t end from start to finish. of imagination and I was so looking forward to climbing the league as fast as I could. It gave us confidence and I’m sure it gave confidence to lots of young guys.

“We were able to go about our business quietly because everyone had written us off and, all of a sudden, we were back in the mix.”

Defensive solidity has also seen a marked improvement. In Jokanovic’s 19 league appearances in charge, the Blades conceded 26 goals and kept five clean sheets, while under his successor they dispatched 18 for 25 and kept 14 clean sheets.

Averages per game under Heckingbottom & Jokanovic

Points Goals scored Goals conceded
Slavisa Jokanovic 1.21 1.21 1.37
Paul Heckingbottom 1.84 1.32 0.68

“We work very hard to defend the box, but I think it depends on our overall intensity,” he said.

“The front players are working tirelessly to press and keep opposing players as far away from our box as possible. If you look closer, we probably faced fewer shots, fewer shots on targets and the keeper must face minus crosses [since the management change].

“We have a ‘keeper [Wes Foderingham] who’s at the top of his game at the minute, so when they break through, he’s been there to save the day on multiple occasions. Overall, again, it comes down to that organization and intensity that Hecky brought to the club.”

With two games to go, the Blades sit last in the play-offs, with two points between them and Middlesbrough – ironically now managed by Wilder.

Whether they keep that spot is entirely in their hands at this point, but Baldock remains coy about the odds in his side even at this stage.

“Everything can change – it’s the end of the season and all the clubs that are there are picking up points because they know what’s at stake.

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Highlights from the Sky Bet Championship game between Sheffield United and Cardiff City

“Every game is going to be tough, but we just have to mind our own business. Since Hecky arrived it’s all about climbing the standings, so we’ll try to do that, climb as high as we can.

“This city is such a passionate city. I live in the city so I meet Blades fans all the time and they always tell me the history of the club. They should be playing at the highest level and that’s where we hope. -the, that we can bring them back.

“They’re a passionate fan base, but also an honest fan base and they knew it was going to be a tough season. But we’ve been giving them hope lately and hopefully now with a bit of momentum and positivity, we can get in those barrage positions and get going.”

For so long it looked like this season would be remembered for mid-table mediocrity for Sheffield United, but with Heckingbottom at the wheel, Baldock and his team-mates could be back on the path to the big moment much sooner than expected. .

But first, two cup finals await us…

Friday April 29 7:00 p.m.


Kick off 7:45 p.m.


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