Sheffield United: Blackpool defeat exposes one big problem and an even bigger myth

“Everybody has a plan,” Mike Tyson once admitted, “Until they get punched in the mouth.”

Sunday, 31st October 2021, 12:16 pm

Actually, Sheffield United have. And the players know exactly what it is. The trouble starts when they are required to execute it. So the theory, espoused by the so-called baddest man on the planet, still stands true.

“We must be disappointed,” Slavisa Jokanovic said, after watching his team beaten by Blackpool. “We played some good football, we created a lot of things and then made one mistake. A big mistake. The reaction after the goal was poor. We didn’t have the mentality to change the story. We should have been fighting for positivity.”

Jokanovic’s synopsis of Saturday’s contest with Neil Critchley’s side was pretty accurate. Confronted by well-drilled and durable opponents, United started okay, had a goal disallowed and then created plenty of chances as they grew in stature as the match unfolded. Keshi Anderson punished their profligacy - and a lapse in concentration at the back - by producing a finish nearly as classy as Gary Madine’s decision to stay behind after the final whistle and applaud the home fans; the one time bete noire of Bramall Lane having work-washed his reputation during a spell on loan there two years ago.

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But even though less than a quarter-of-an-hour remained on the clock, United had shown enough to convince everyone within the stadium they could salvage something from the game. Jokanovic believed it. So did Critchley, who paid tribute to their capabilities afterwards. The only people who didn’t were the people on the pitch wearing red and white striped shirts. Rather than be affronted by Anderson’s impudence, United were reduced to a rudderless mess incapable, as Jokanovic lamented after, of stringing together “three quality” passes.

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The Serb, one of the most capable coaches outside the top-flight, attempted to take sole responsibility for the result during the post-game inquest.

But contrary to popular belief, not every fault within a squad can be traced back to a manager. It suits footballers and yes, directors, to peddle that idea. But it’s a myth. One which, if it goes unchallenged, only perpetuates a problem.

Sheffield United captain Billy Sharp begins the inquest into his team's defeat by Blackpool at Bramall Lane: Simon Bellis/ Sportimage

United don’t have an issue with tactics. If they did, they wouldn’t have teased Blackpool’s defence out of position before Iliman Ndiaye, straying slightly offside, glanced home from close range or carved the openings which saw Morgan Gibbs-White and Lys Mousset go close before Anderson pounced. United don’t suffer from a shortage of ability either. Otherwise they wouldn’t have beaten Stoke City a fortnight ago or pushed Championship leaders AFC Bournemouth so close at the Vitality Stadium.

But what they do lack is leaders on the pitch. Big characters capable of reminding those around them that not every punch a rival lands has to be a knockout blow. A couple exist, yes. But in order to be effective, to prevent the type of collapse which had become all too familiar even before Jokanovic’s appointment over the summer, another four or five need to emerge. Either that or United must provide him with the funds to source some in the transfer market. Otherwise a very gifted group of individuals, the technical department included, will simply wither on the vine.

“This has been going on for months now,” Jokanovic said. “This is not the first time."

Slavisa Jokanovic accepts Sheffield United must become more resolute after watching his team lose to Blackpool: Simon Bellis/ Sportimage
George Baldock of Sheffield United shows his disappointment following the Sky Bet Championship match against Blackpool at Bramall Lane: Simon Bellis/ Sportimage