Paul Heckingbottom salutes Sheffield United’s spirit after beating Fulham

Iliman Ndiaye scored the only goal at Craven Cottage.

By Press Association Published: 20 December 2021 - 10.55pm

Paul Heckingbottom saluted the spirit of Sheffield United which re-emerged at Craven Cottage in their 1-0 victory over Sky Bet Championship leaders Fulham.

It was one of the players Heckingbottom had under his wing in the Under-23s side at Bramall Lane, Iliman Ndiaye, who scored the goal which lifted United to within three points of the play-off places.

It also meant that Heckingbottom has won all three of his games in charge.

He said: “You’ve not seen the best of Iliman yet. There is more to come. He showed with his goal that he’s got tremendous ball control and the ability to keep the ball so close to him.

“He carries the ball at full speed. That got him away from people and then he had the confidence to take the shot on at full speed. I was also pleased with his work-rate tonight and his willingness to win the ball back.

“It’s a brilliant result. At times I was getting frustrated by us giving the ball away but to win this way was a real big thing for us because we haven’t looked like doing that. And to show that spirit.

“To beat the team at the top of the league away is a big thing.

“Sheffield United got promoted from League One and the Championship with a lot less than we’ve got now, so if we keep that level of performance, we’ll be all right.”

To complete an evening of celebration by the Thames, the Sheffield United fans were able to welcome back substitute John Fleck for his first 15 minutes of action since collapsing on the pitch at Reading on November 23.

Heckingbottom added: “John’s been chomping at the bit. It was great to have him back on the pitch and for the fans to see him.”

Fulham could not avoid their second home defeat this season in spite of throwing on a trio of attacking substitutes in the second half and Aleksandar Mitrovic striking the bar in added time.

Disappointed manager Marco Silva said: “It wasn’t our best performance definitely. We had a lot of unforced errors tonight and didn’t create the problems that we should have created for them.

“We try to perform better than our opponents but the main thing we should do is do it our way. Tonight we didn’t do it our way.

“The main reason is clear for me. We did so many good things so far this season and we did the right things until now. This was a really bad evening, not because of the result but because of the way we played.

“We have to analyse it now and prepare the game against Birmingham on Boxing Day.”

United’s revival under Heckingbottom was not lost on Silva, who was also critical of what he saw as the away side’s time-wasting.

Silva added: “It’s not a surprise that they are achieving some results because of the squad that they have.

“They scored early and then they waited back for us in defence. Of course, they wasted some time as well and the referee allowed them to do it.”

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