'Right club, wrong time' - Paul Heckingbottom on Leeds United return and Sheffield United's chances at Elland Road
Heckingbottom took charge of the Blades in the wake of Chris Wilder's departure, stepping up from his previous position as Under 23s boss, and has so far overseen a 5-0 beating at the hands of Leicester City and a 2-0 FA Cup exit against Chelsea.
It's just over three years since he left Barnsley to be appointed as head coach of Leeds United on an 18-month contract. He lasted four months in the role, winning four of 16 games before being sacked and eventually replaced by Marcelo Bielsa who has since led the Whites back to the Premier League.
He insists there are no regrets or hard feelings when it comes to Leeds.
"People are going to talk about it, it’s always nice to be up against a former team," he said.
"Sometimes it brings an edge and sometimes you want to see people but from our point of view, it’s not worth more points so our approach will be the same. We know they’re good opponents but we’re looking to build on the Chelsea performance and make that the minimum, if you like, for the rest of the season.
"It was a difficult time leaving Barnsley but it had to be done on principle and I don’t regret it. It gave me another experience to work with a really good group of players and another ownership, and it gives you an opportunity to learn and get better. I don’t regret it at all, I’ve enjoyed every role I’ve had in football.
"It is always nice to be up against a former team, for lots of reasons. I still speak to the ownership there. No ill feeling. Right club, wrong time for myself. That is how you have to look at it."
Sheffield United sit bottom of the table with 14 points from 29 games going into Saturday's derby. Leeds are 25 points clear of them and looking to break the 40 point mark, but Heckingbottom believes the Blades will get their chances so it's a challenge to relish.
"They give opportunities away as well if you’re willing to capitalise on it, we’re looking forward to it and the challenge it’ll bring," he said.
"We know it’ll be tough to match them and deal with their threats, but we believe we can create chances and problems as well. You have to stand up and enjoy the man-to-man nature of it and look to come out on top."
The task for the Blades between now and the end of the season is to try and end with some measure of momentum. They come to Leeds looking to establish a platform upon which individual goals can be built.
"Winning mentality, performance, something to build on, that’s what we’re saying and that’s got to happen," said Heckingbottom.
"Players are playing for their futures elsewhere, for their futures here, and it’s an opportunity. For some it could be their last time in the Premier League, it’s a big few games that can define this season but how we start next season too. It’s important we don’t waste them and let them fritter away, we’ve got to push for the three points in every one."