Barnsley boss opens up on time at Sunderland and looks ahead to league meeting

Heckingbottom spent four years on Wearside
Heckingbottom spent four years on Wearside

Former Sunderland player Paul Heckingbottom says Simon Grayson has 'steadied' the Black Cats since his arrival.

Heckingbottom will take on the Black Cats for the first time since beginning his managerial career at Oakwell.

His Barnsley side have made a slow start to the current season but shocked most by finishing in mid-table last season.

He said: "They’ve got good players and a good manager. They had their first loss against Leeds but they’ve been really steady. Simon seems to have come in and really simplified things for him, hard work and organisation, and then when you’ve got good players you’ve got a good chance.

"They’ve got massive experience coming down from the Premier League, yes they’ve lost one or two but they’ve also kept many who they thought might go."

Speaking to BBC Radio Sheffield, Heckingbottom also opened up on a playing career that saw him spend a number of years in the North East.

Heckingbottom never made a senior appearance for the Black Cats but spent four years on Wearside and played for both Hartlepool United and Darlington before returning to hometown club Barnsley.

He said the values of those areas have shaped his managerial style.

"I changed position there, I was a midfielder but I went there as a left-back," he said.

"I ended up playing left-back in one game for one of the Manchester United youth teams, there was a scout from Sunderland there. When I got released they had no cover at left-back and said they thought I could do it, so I went up there and signed a contract. It was a good club, good people. It just so happened that Pop Robson ended up going from united to Sunderland so I had that support.

"It was a different era as a pro, you were all together, so you were with the first team, or in the reserves as a first teamer because there was no U23's. It was good. It’s like those here who have had to make a big jump up and learn on the job, you can’t get down when it doesn’t go right, you know everything is going to be difficult and you have to keep going until you get it right," he added.

"I don’t know why I ended up playing for so many North East teams, it is a good area for football, I always compare it to South Yorkshire and Merseyside. Especially when you’re working with younger players, all the youth teams seem to have the same sort of drive. Whether its the working class background or the fans, what’s deemed important, the values, you can draw strong resemblances. Maybe that’s why I kept going back there."