Sheffield United: Slavisa Jokanovic dispels three big myths about his team before Blackburn Rovers test

You can look at it one of three ways.

Thursday, 4th November 2021, 6:33 pm

Either now is the best time to play Blackburn Rovers, whose morale must be shattered after being eviscerated by Fulham. Or it could be the worst, as Tony Mowbray’s side look to unleash their anger following yesterday’s humbling at Ewood Park.

Then again, with the cheat code that is Aleksandar Mitrovic at Marco Silva’s disposal, maybe the Londoners are simply too good for the division? So perhaps the 7-0 scoreline doesn’t really mean very much at all.

When Slavisa Jokanovic addressed the media ahead of his team’s assignment in Lancashire, the Sheffield United manager appeared to have given the question precious little thought. Why? Because despite acknowledging Rovers are likely to feel both ashamed and furious, he is attempting to cultivate an environment where United focus only on themselves.

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Sheffield United, who face Blackburn Rovers this weekend, celebrate Morgan Gibbs-White's goal at Nottingham Forest: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

Shutting out the noise surrounding their inconsistent start to the season, ignoring the doom-laden narratives being peddled by some is, Jokanovic insisted, the key to unlocking the potential of players who, at times this term, have appeared to lack the belief they can control their own destinies.

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“What we definitely know is that it was a hard defeat and that this team will try and clean that from its imagination,” he said, referring to events across the Pennines earlier this week. “This result, we must try and use it as a benefit for us. We must focus and concentrate without relaxation because they (Rovers) will show a lot of desire to wash their faces and give a different performance.

“But sometimes this happens. Sometimes you get results like this. Experienced coaches, and they have an experienced coach, will often say it is better to have, say, one 5-0 loss than five or six 1-0’s in a row. My biggest priority, my only priority, is on us and my players.”

Chris Basham is expected to feature again in Sheffield United's starting eleven at Ewood Park: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

United enter the game on the back of a disappointing result themselves. Albeit nowhere near as disappointing as the one suffered by Tony Mowbray’s men, who will be without Jan Paul van Hecke following his sending-off during the first-half of Rovers’ humiliation at the hands of Jokanovic’s former employers.

Blades looked on course for a win at Nottingham Forest

Twenty-four hours earlier, on a bitterly cold Tuesday night in the east Midlands, United appeared to be on course to record what would have been a deserved and morale-boosting win over Nottingham Forest. That was until a lapse in concentration, following Morgan Gibbs-White’s strike, allowed Lewis Grabban to equalise unmarked at the far post.

Sheffield United manager Slavisa Jokanovic says his team must improve but progress is being made: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

Although the sight of them yet again relinquishing a lead was gut-wrenching, United’s display at the City Ground suggested Jokanovic is making progress in his battle to help them become the team he believes they can and should be.

There was no catastrophic collapse after Grabban’s effort. In fact, as United stuck to their game plan, Rhian Brewster should have marked his return to the starting eleven by restoring their advantage in added time.

It wasn’t the perfect performance by any stretch of the imagination, as Jokanovic acknowledged last night. But, with Chris Basham impressing at centre-half in Ben Davies’ absence, it was one which confirmed some of the messages the Serb and his staff are relaying behind the scenes are beginning to resonate.

“Definitely, we need to improve,” said Jokanovic, whose side enjoyed more possession and more shots on goal than the opposition. “But we did not give a lot of chances to Forest.

“They had the one shot and unfortunately, this was the one shot they scored from.

“Our job is to try and give people less opportunities to finish their actions. Is the bottle half empty or half full? We are not satisfied yet with what we offer our supporters. But we also are doing many good things, so I prefer to see the bottle as being half full.”

Sheffield United’s work on the training pitch

Admitting that translating territory and possession into better openings themselves has featured heavily on the agenda at United’s training complex since their return from Forest - “We could have had more, yes, for sure” - Jokanovic also used his latest pre-match briefing to confront claims a switch in formation would cure a lot of their ills.

Inevitably, after gaining promotion from the Championship under his predecessor Chris Wilder by playing a 3-5-2, there have been calls for United to revert to this system. Particularly with Davies again set to miss out as he receives treatment for a viral infection.

But Jokanovic did try and persevere with this strategy at the beginning of the campaign, only to watch them fail to win any of their first five Championship outings since being relegated from the Premier League.

“In the last game, we played three at the back at the end. I don’t think supporters want to see three or four or five at the back. They want to see their team win the game.

“I can understand frustration, about trying a guy in a different place. Yes. But we must remain calm on the outside. If you believe if we play with three at the back, that someone can guarantee me we win with three, I play it.

“We have played that way before, with success and with no success. I am pragmatic. I try and play with what is in my hands and how my team is balanced.”

United finished the latest round of fixtures in 16th position, four places behind Rovers and trailing the top six by six points.

“We are hurt because we did not win the last game,” Jokanovic said. “But I am not bothered about that now, because all I am thinking about and all we must be thinking about, is the next one.

"That is what matters. We must have clear heads, look to improve and recognise that there is a lot ahead of us.”