Sheffield United: 'If I say what I really think, this will be an expensive interview,' fumes Slavisa Jokanovic after his team's defeat at Bournemouth
It is too early in the season to start talking about must win fixtures or games you can ill-afford to lose
But, from Sheffield United’s perspective at least, this visit to AFC Bournemouth was more significant than either they or their manager Slavisa Jokanovic would probably have hoped when they Championship swung back into action two months ago.
Ten points behind Scott Parker’s side ahead of kick-off, now 13 after taking and then relinquishing the lead in controversial circumstances, United entered the contest knowing that a defeat could force them to begin plotting a more convoluted route back to the Premier League than the one they envisaged taking back in August,
Jokanovic won’t begin reprogramming his Sat-Nav just yet. But even with 35 matches of the campaign remaining, the visitors’ hopes of reaching the top two already appear remote as they lost further ground on opponents who enter the international break at the summit of the table and still unbeaten.
“They didn’t come back into the game,” the United manager said, after watching Dominic Solanke’s penalty and Philip Billing’s finish cancel-out Morgan Gibbs-White’s opener. “We played well and, in the circumstances, we tried and we were calm. But it was some guy who brought them back into the game.”
The person Jokanovic was referring to was the assistant referee who, after mistakenly judging Solanke had been fouled inside the box by Enda Stevens, then failed to raise a flag during the build-up to Bournemouth’s winner.
“If I answer what I really think, then this (press conference) will be very expensive and I am not rich enough,” Jokanovic added. “I thought it was a bad decision on the field and also after the game, the penalty., Then, the next one, I thought it was clearly offside. That is it. That is what I will say.”
After a first-half of missed chances at both ends of the pitch - Billy Sharp and Billing going the closest before the interval - Gibbs-White broke the deadlock early in the second as United finally landed a telling blow. Scoring for the third time since arriving on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers, the 21-year-old produced a superb finish to power home beyond Mark Travers after being forced to readjust his body position to meet Sharp’s cross.
Rather than laying the foundations for what would have been a hard-fought but not entirely undeserved victory, Gibbs-White’s strike instead marked the start of a frantic and hugely frustrating period for United. Solanke quickly levelled from the spot, despite appearing to have been brought down outside the area by Enda Stevens. Jokanovic and his assistants were still furiously debating the decision with fourth official Charles Breakspear when Billing turned the match on its head.
Ryan Christie, previously of Celtic, was responsible for providing the cross the Dane converted after dancing his way towards the byline and then threading the ball through a crowd of players right into his colleague’s path. It was precisely the type of quality Bournemouth knew they were getting when they persuaded the Scotland international to leave Celtic.
“I am disappointed with the result,” Jokanovic said, after watching substitute Lys Mousset head against the crossbar in added time. “But I still think we took a step forward.”