John Egan admits Sheffield United’s players need to take responsibility for their 8-0 hammering at home to Newcastle United on Sunday, which fuelled yet more speculation about boss Paul Heckingbottom’s position at Bramall Lane. United fell to the bottom of the Premier League table after their first defeat of the season by more than a one-goal margin.
The manner of defeat was almost as alarming as the scoreline, with United outfought, outrun and outplayed by a Newcastle side who had encountered a tough test in midweek against AC Milan in the Champions League. The margin of Newcastle’s joint-highest Premier League win - they also beat Wednesday 8-0 back in 1999 - could have been greater, too, but for some profligate finishing from the visitors in good areas.
Heckingbottom had already been questioned about his future in the build-up to the Newcastle game, after a national newspaper report at the weekend suggested that he was on the brink of being sacked after United’s cruel 2-1 defeat away at Tottenham Hotspur. Those suggestions were wide of the mark and the Newcastle hammering did not alter the board’s views, but even Heckingbottom himself seemed resigned to the fact that he will now routinely be asked about his future in press conferences.
“Listen, this might be a thing now by the looks of it,” he replied after insisting “100 per cent” that he will be in charge of United’s next game, away at West Ham United this weekend. “I can’t answer any of that. The game I can; the players, my department, no problem. The staff. But questions like that, you are asking the wrong man.”
Egan and the rest of United’s defence were given a torrid time throughout by Newcastle, with familiar failings coming back to haunt them in terms of defending crosses into the box. They are by some distance the biggest conceders of goals from crosses so far this season, with this weekend’s opponents West Ham sure to have analysed that weakness in a bid to continue United’s woe at the London Stadium.
“It’s never happened to this bunch of players before; we’ve never been on the end of something like that, so we have to take responsibility,” Egan said. “We’re out there on the pitch, it’s not good enough for this football club and for ourselves. We’re going to have to take it on the chin, take responsibility for it and try and grow from it.”
Asked if it was up to those on the pitch to take responsibility, considering the talk about the manager’s future, Egan added: “One hundred per cent, it’s on us players. We’re on the pitch, we’re given a plan. It’s up to us how we perform, individually and as a team and today we were miles off it compared to what we have been doing. We’re going to have to look at it.
“Listen, I can’t really stand here and say anything positive. It’s embarrassing for us but we have to take these things on the chin. We have to learn from it and learn fast. That can’t be happening. Were absolutely beat out the gate and it’s not like us, we’ve been competitive in every game. The wounds are fresh so we have to have a long, hard look at ourselves and learn fast and get a lot better.”