Sheffield United: A new season but some familiar traits as Slavisa Jokanovic's Blades are beaten by Birmingham City
It was Sheffield United. Only not quite as we know it. Even though the personnel at their disposal remains the same.
The manager was different. So too was the approach. Unfortunately some familiar traits remain, as this meeting with Birmingham City revealed.
Maxime Colin’s goal midway through the opening period proved enough to settle the contest in the visitors’ favour, as Slavisa Jokanovic suffered a frustrating start to life in the Bramall Lane dug-out.
The result will be a disappointment for the 52-year-old, although neither Watford nor Fulham burst out of the blocks under his tutelage before going on the win promotion from the Championship.
What was more concerning, however, was the sight of United failing to exploit any of the openings they either created or were presented with. Sander Berge was also passive in midfield while Lys Mousset went off injured.
There was no shortage of industry in front of a raucous crowd, as supporters returned to the stadium in their numbers following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions. But as Jokanovic will have lamented, there was little end product. It confirmed why, despite expressing himself satisfied with the overall quality of his squad, the former Yugoslavia international has acknowledged a “refresh” is required.
Lee Bowyer, the City head coach, confessed to being in the dark about how Jokanovic would approach this fixture before leaving the Midlands. But momentum is a motif of all the Serb’s teams so preventing United from building any was the visitors’ first target.
After a fast and furious opening, they did exactly that. In, much to Jokanovic’s obvious frustration on the touchline, the most effective way possible.
Colin didn’t silence the crowd when he headed City ahead after 18 minutes. But his finish, which exposed United’s lack of specialist cover in the left wing-back role, did change the dynamic of the game. Well, once Oliver Burke had seen an angled drive cannon back off a post as United surged straight forward from the restart.
There appeared little danger when Ryan Woods picked up the ball on United’s right flank and exchanged passes with Jeremie Bela. But the Angola international was alive to the possibilities. Unlike Ben Osborn who looked every inch a midfielder as, deputising for the injured Enda Stevens, he failed to prevent Colin from meeting the cross.
Burke, partnering David McGoldrick and Mousset in attack, nearly conjured the perfect response when he burst in from the right. His shot beat Matija Sarkic but not the post. Still, the Scot’s run confirmed City’s left flank was an area United could exploit.
Clearly realising as much himself, Burke put on the after-burners again at the beginning of the second period. His centre was tipped away by Sarkic but that wasn’t the biggest price United paid as Mousset was forced off after appearing to strain a muscle as he flung himself at the ball.
United had plenty of reason to bemoan VAR during their two year stay in the top-flight. But they were left rueing its absence in the 68th minute when John Fleck’s shot struck Gary Gardner on the arm. The City man was inside the area but nothing was given, despite furious protests from three sides of the ground.