Sheffield United have been urged to deliver their first Premier League win of the season in honour of women’s vice-captain Maddy Cusack who has died unexpectedly at the age of 27.
A range of tributes have been planned for Sunday’s game against Newcastle with Maddy’s face on the cover of the match programme and Blades players wearing black armbands.
As United’s longest-serving female player and an employee in the club’s marketing department, Maddy was a hugely popular figure and shellshocked manager Paul Heckingbottom says his players have to try to make everyone feel proud this weekend.
‘We want the game to be about Maddy by showing our respects as a football club,’ he said. ‘It’s only right we do that, but to then get that perfect result for Maddy we have to focus on the preparation.
‘A lot of people have found the last couple of days really tough and Sunday will be as well. The staff, the players and I have to try to deliver a performance that makes people feel proud.
Sheffield United are preparing tributes for Maddy Cusack, who died unexpectedly aged 27
Paul Heckingbottom wants his team to ‘deliver a performance’ in honour of Cusack
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‘I saw her a lot with the women’s team because my daughter played and during the week because she was a big part of what the marketing and media team did as well.
‘There are a lot of people suffering. We will support each other here but first and foremost our thoughts are with her family.’
United are talking to the family about ways fans can pay tribute at the game. Maddy had been with the club since 2019 and wore the No 8 shirt. A cause of death has not been disclosed.
The Blades have taken only one point from five matches after promotion but are out of the relegation places on goal difference.
Referees chiefs Howard Webb and Jon Moss visited Heckingbottom on Friday after the manager’s rant about officials following last Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Tottenham.
Heckingbottom accused referees of ‘not having a clue’ after his goalkeeper Wes Foderingham was threatened with a second yellow card for timewasting.
Foderingham subsequently received racist abuse from a Spurs fan online and has spoken to police.
‘I’m grateful they came in. We had discussions about the game and, the biggest thing, how we take it forward,’ said Heckingbottom. ‘There are two perspectives. I have to defend my team and if I don’t think we are being treated fairly, I have to stick up for us.
Cusack was recently named vice-captain of the women’s team and worked as a marketing executive for the club and its Community Foundation
‘And then there is the game itself. I have no issue with time added on. But it’s how we enforce the rules. My goalkeeper was averaging 18 seconds per goal kick. Manchester United took longer and Brentford took 29 seconds.
‘If we are taking goal-kicks quicker than Manchester United and Brentford, how can we be threatened with bookings. That was my point. We expect better, we expect more consistency.’
The Blades will be without suspended Oli McBurnie at Bramall Lane against Newcastle, after the striker was sent off at Spurs.