Luton boss Jones not surprised by Heckingbottom’s success at Sheffield United
The former Barnsley and Leeds United boss guided the Blades to the Sky Bet Championship play-off semi-finals last season, and arrives in Luton tonight with his team sitting top of the table.
The 45-year-old, who was briefly promoted from Under-23s coach to caretaker manager at Bramall Lane after Chris Wilder left the club in March, 2021, was handed the job on a permanent basis in November last year, replacing Slaviša Jokanović who was sacked after a disappointing start to the campaign following their relegation from the Premier League.
Heckingbottom had an instant impact, lifting the Blades from the lower reaches of the division to finish fifth, only to then lose out in the play-offs to Nottingham Forest, who would go on to win promotion to the top flight.
His team have started this season well, shrugging off an opening day loss at Watford to claim 10 points from the next four games, and that is not something that has surprised Jones.
“We know the people they have there,” said the Hatters boss. “Football’s a big world, but it’s a small world. Paul did a good job at Barnsley, went to Leeds and it didn’t quite work out, but that happens.
“He did well at Hibs, came back to Sheffield, which is a place he knows.
“He worked with the under-21s, worked in the academy and then got promoted and has done fantastically well.
“He’s had a wide number of roles in football, has paid his dues and is now doing a wonderful job there.
“There are some tough acts to follow.
“When you follow Chris Wilder it’s very difficult with the success he had, then bringing in Slavisa (Jokanovic), who’s a wonderful human being and has got a good record at Championship level.
“To then take that on is brave, but he’s done fantastic.”
Jones believes the Blades have got the best squad in the Championship, but he feels Luton, who claimed their first win of the season when beating Swansea City 2-0 last weekend, are not far behind – and that both sides were unlucky to lose their play-off semi-finals last term.
“Sheffield United have got good players, good characters and all the ingredients to be a top Championship side,” said the Hatters manager.
“They got promoted from here and had two years in the Premier League. They came down and, after a tough start, with a new manager which sometimes happens, they really finished strongly and were very unfortunate (last season).
“I honestly think, with the greatest of respect to Huddersfield and Forest, because Forest were an excellent team, I felt we were really good in the second leg against Huddersfield and, on the balance of everything, deserved to go through.
“And I think Sheffield United did as well.
“So there are two real good sides still in the division.
“It will be a real good encounter and one we’re really looking forward to because we’re under the lights at the Kenny and (in front of) Sky.
“It will be the toughest of games and it is the toughest game at the minute because they’re top of the league, but one we’re going to embrace.”