Sheffield United: People laughed when Slavisa Jokanovic said football can learn from boxing but this win proved he was right
Forty-eight hours before watching his team record the most significant victory of the season so far, Slavisa Jokanovic had spoken about studying fights, including Tyson Fury’s victory over Deontay Wilder and Oleksandr Usyk’s systematic destruction of Anthony Joshua, for ideas which could translate to football.
Those long hours spent in front of the television screen - scrolling backwards and forwards through the action, scribbling down a note whenever something caught his eye - were clearly not a waste of time. Like Fury and Usyk, Sheffield United were forced to survive some pretty dark periods during Saturday’s contest with Stoke City, whose physical superiority became apparent the minute they emerged from the tunnel. But taking their lead from the two finest heavyweights on the planet, United reminded that so long as you’re durable, ringcraft, discipline and strategic thinking always trump power.
“There was a time when we looked flat and didn’t know what we were doing,” conceded Jokanovic, referring to the moments after Jacob Brown had edged City in front. “Yet we showed trust in our work.
“The way I interpreted this game, a good start was important but the finish was also important. Even more important maybe.”
United’s meeting with Michael O’Neill’s side went according to the script. Jokanovic’s team began the afternoon brightly, cleverly teasing City’s towering defenders out of position to create aerial chances for Morgan Gibbs-White, John Egan and captain Billy Sharp. Although those openings went begging, unlike the one Brown created for himself early in the second half, United showed bravery to weather the ensuing storm before returning to their game plan. Substitutes Lys Mousset and David McGoldrick landed the decisive blows late on, as Jokanovic’s men claimed their first win over one of the division’s leading contenders since competition resumed in August. But this was a collective triumph, with the players’ work being supplemented by some expert guidance from the touchline.
“We were looking for progress,” said Jokanovic. “I think we are seeing progress. But that progress is still not enough. We must aspire to be even better and show even more, becuse that is what the best in any sportg do.”