Sheffield United: More signs of progress but also frustration for The Blades as Preston score a last gasp equaliser
Slavisa Jokanovic likes to talk about ‘The Process’ without ever really elaborating on the details.
But whatever it is, Sheffield United’s players are clearly beginning to buy into it. Tonight’s match against Preston North End might not have seen them deliver the type of fluent, rhythmic performance the Serb’s teams are famous for. Nor did it produce the desired result, with Emil Riis’s effort deep into added time ensuring Frankie McAvoy’s side took what, on balance, was probably a deserved point from the contest.
But there were flashes of genuine quality from United, who appeared on course to record back to back wins in the Championship when substitute Sander Berge converted moments after debutant Robin Olsen had denied Riis from close range. Morgan Gibbs-White had earlier fired United in front with his second in as many matches, before Daniel Johnson equalised for the visitors.
Olsen, one of two changes to the eleven which had demolished Peterborough at the weekend, was serenaded with chants of “Sweden’s Number One’ on his first outing for the hosts. As you would expect of an international goalkeeper the 31-year-old, on loan from AS Roma, did the nuts and bolts of his job well - barking a constant stream of instructions to those directly in front of him and looking confident in the air. But having finally been released from quarantine after passing two Covid-19 tests, Olsen enjoyed precious few opportunities to show why Jokanovic chose him to replace Aaron Ramsdale following the youngster’s move to Arsenal until he thwarted Riis just before Berge’s intervention.
Speaking on the eve of the fixture, Jokanovic had warned that Preston would look to suffocate United’s creative talents and drag his team into the trenches. Two strikes within the opening quarter ensured the match followed a very different pattern. Indeed, seeing their captain Johnson restore parity following Gibbs-White’s early finish appeared to convince them a more expansive approach would be profitable. Riis twice missed opportunities before making it third time lucky following a defensive lapse.
Luke Freeman, handed his first league start of the campaign in place of the ill Ben Osborn, was responsible for crafting United’s opener. Finding space out wide, he delivered a teasing cross into the box which Iliman Ndiaye helped divert into Gibbs-White’s path. Off-balance, the midfielder struggled to make a clean connection. But it was clean enough to send the ball spiralling beyond Daniel Iversen and into the roof of the Dane’s net.
After negotiating their way through a tricky period which saw Billy Sharp head wide, Preston levelled when Johnson outfoxed Rhys Norrington-Davies as they hunted down Ryan Ledson’s long ball. Olsen, darting off his line to try and snuff out the danger, was wrong footed by the midfielder’s touch but ultimately powerless to intervene.
After helping United regain control following a period of Preston pressure, Berge thought he had secured victory after John Fleck and Sharp combined - sliding home from the edge of the six yard box. But Riis had other ideas, turning the ball past Olsen when United failed to clear Ledson’s set-piece.