Sheffield United caretaker boss Paul Heckingbottom has urged his side to go down fighting as they prepare for their penultimate home game of the season against Crystal Palace.
The rock-bottom Blades were relegated with six games to spare last month, but Heckingbottom is convinced his players can still learn some valuable lessons from their remaining fixtures which will stand them in good stead for the future.
Heckingbottom said: “We’ve spoken about not shying away from the situation, not wishing the season away and hoping for it to be over and start afresh, to keep working and try to get the most out of these remaining games.
“This is the level that everyone wants to play at, we’ve seen what kind of league we’re in – this is the toughest league in the world and the standards are so high, but you don’t want to be in any other league.
“If that means you have to step up and work harder and it means you’ve got to be better than ever before, then you’ve got to try to do it. If you fall short that way, fair enough, but the chances are you’re going to improve and get to a level.”
Heckingbottom specifically referenced the challenges facing Rhian Brewster, who is still searching for his first goal as a Blades player, leading some to question the wisdom of his £23million move from Liverpool earlier this season.
Brewster was hauled off at half-time in last weekend’s 4-0 defeat at Tottenham and Heckingbottom acknowledged the task facing the 21-year-old as he continues to try to rediscover the promise he showed during his early years at Liverpool and on loan at Swansea last season.
“It’s been difficult for him,” admitted Heckingbottom. “He’s had a run of three games now where he’s probably working harder than he has done before.
“It’s coinciding with Ramadan where he’s trying to manage his body through his first real intense period at this time of year, which has been a good education for him and will stand him in good stead.
“But we know we are going to have to manage him through these moments and we can’t shy away from how hard it is, how hard he’s got to work and the challenges that are presenting in front of him right now.”
Heckingbottom has no fresh injury concerns for the Palace clash, with Sander Berge pushing for his first start of the year after returning on the bench in north London last week.