Nottingham Forest 1 Sheffield United 1: Nearly, but yet again not quite for Blades at City Ground
Sheffield United continue to give the impression that something, something very good indeed, is bubbling just beneath the surface.
But deciphering how to unearth it is proving difficult for Slavisa Jokanovic to fathom, although tonight’s draw with Nottingham Forest will have provided him with some important clues.
Against opponents whose determination to play out from the back meant they were an accident waiting to happen at times, a lack of attention to detail in the final third meant United were unable to take advantage. Which, despite being a source of frustration for Jokanovic and his coaching staff, is also likely to convince them to persevere.
United had no problem piecing together passes at the City Ground. But picking the right one, particularly when they made their way towards the opposition’s penalty box, meant they struggled to translate territory into clear openings.
That was until Morgan Gibbs-White’s perseverance eventually paid off - scoring for the fourth time since arriving from Wolves on loan after substitute Billy Sharp did what others had spent 78 minutes trying to do by providing some quality service with his first touch of the contest.
But United, who brought Rhian Brewster back in from the cold as part of a tactical reshuffle, were breached themselves when another replacement - Lewis Grabban - levelled for Forest. Cue a manic celebration from their manager Steve Cooper, whose response earned him a caution from the referee.
United were sharp - nearly as sharp as the cut of Jokanovic’s navy blue suit - during the opening exchanges, before losing some of their thrust. Gibbs-White was full of life at one end of the pitch, combining well with the equally energetic Lys Mousset. Chris Basham, one of three changes made to the visitors’ starting eleven, used his experience to repel a series of attempted counter attacks at the other as Cooper’s men looked to exploit their attacking pace. When Joe Lolley did manage to escape his clutches, the 33-year-old centre-half reminded he has guile as well as graft - making just enough contact to impede the winger’s progress but also avoid the caution his cynicism probably deserved.
Jokanovic, who knows in order to be effective teams must also master the dark arts, nodded his head in approval.
United dominated possession throughout the first half. But, as has often been the case this term, struggled to create any meaningful chances until Jayden Bogle tested Brice Samba’s handling. Indeed, it was Forest who went closest to breaking the deadlock when Lyle Taylor drilled just wide as the interval approached. Bogle also tried to guide the ball between the goalkeeper and the near post when United pieced together the type of move Jokanovic wants to become their trademark. But when Enda Stevens produced the defence splitting ball following some patient probing, Samba guessed correctly.
Having ended the first-half boasting a possession rate of 62 percent, the need to put it to better use will have dominated the agenda in United’s dressing room as they prepared for the second.
Forest, who could have been reduced to 10 men when Brennan Johnson reacted furiously to being booked for diving, fell behind when Sharp and Gibbs-White combined.
But Grabban restored parity when he prodded home at the far post, as the hosts produced an immediate response.