Having stayed up last weekend to watch Tyson Fury demolish Deontay Wilder, it was probably no surprise to read him summoning his inner Teddy Brenner. And Sheffield United’s manager was right, they do.
The same, when those fights are of the footballing variety, goes for goals. United scored two of them, during the closing stages of an absorbing contest which saw them become only the third team to beat Stoke City in the Championship this season.
United triumphed thanks to a combination of ringcraft, perseverance and, with two substitutes landing the decisive blows, expert guidance from the touchline. Responding to Jacob Brown’s opener for the visitors, Jokanovic summoned Lys Mousset and David McGoldrick off the bench before doing his best not to appear overly smug as they both hit the target. The result might only have lifted United one place up the table but in terms of their confidence, given the quality of the opposition, the effect could be huge.
“We are really pleased with how we played, the result and the different switches we made,” Jokanovic said. “For parts, we played with a good brain and found spaces.”
“I felt we had control,” Michael O’Neill countered, reminding that his City side had been in the ascendancy when Mousset turned home. “The subs changed the game, so fair play to them."
United had entered the game hoping the latest international break would have the same rejuvenating effect as the last pause in the domestic schedule when, after failing to win any of their opening five outings, they returned to action by eviscerating Peterborough. But City, who started the afternoon fourth, are a completely different proposition to Darren Ferguson’s men.
Although United shaded the first-half on points, their Billy Sharp was still forced to clear Brown’s header off the line before going close with one of his own - Adam Davies scrambling clear as the ball threatened to sneak in at the far post.
Earlier, Morgan Gibbs-White had twice been presented with chances to beat the City goalkeeper, following crosses from Ben Osborn and the United captain. He failed on both occasions but it revealed plenty, about both the attention to detail and tactical discipline of their play that the hosts were able to create so many openings against a City team which prides itself on being dominant in the air.
Instead it was on the deck where City were able to inflict serious damage on the hosts, whose profligacy came back to haunt them just before the hour when Brown, after holding off John Egan and Ben Davies, was able to create just enough space to drill a low shot beyond Robin Olsen.
United, who just before that finish had seen Jayden Bogle and the excellent Enda Stevens both go close, struck back when Sharp and McGoldrick combined to find Mousset who finished emphatically from close range. Having helped create the equaliser, McGoldrick then claimed the winner; prodding home Stevens’ pass in front of The Kop.
“We were patient,” Jokanovic said. “And we found the way through.”
Sheffield United: Olsen, Stevens, Bogle, Egan, B Davies, Norwood (Hourihane 70), Fleck, Osborn (Mousset 67), Ndiaye (McGoldrick 77), Gibbs-White, Sharp. Not used: Foderingham, Basham, McBurnie, Robinson.