Sheffield United: Slavisa Jokanovic sifts through the wreckage of the cruellest - and most mentally draining - defeat The Blades have suffered this year
Of all the blows Sheffield United have suffered since the beginning of last season, a campaign which not only saw them surrender Premier League status but also drained them of self-belief, this was the most crushing and cruellest of all.
Levi Samuels Colwill’s winning goal, in the 94th minute of added time, not only saw Huddersfield Town prolong Slavisa Jokanovic’s wait for his first Championship win since taking charge seven weeks ago. It also left the Serb’s players, who had already grown used to getting beat long before his appointment, looking shell-shocked, crushed and utterly confused. The thousand yard stares on their faces as they trudged off the pitch, around 60 seconds or so after the youngster had silenced Bramall Lane, spoke volumes.
“No, it's a hard moment for us,” Jokanovic admitted, insisting yet again that United are still yet to recover psychologically from being demoted. “Right now, we are still talking about a Premier League season and not an especially good season at that.
“We need to be positive, we need to feel the huge support we are getting from the crowd and we must realise that we need to work hard on the field.
“I can not say it wasn’t a hard defeat, because it was. We tried. That punishment was hard. But I can’t start to cry about different things or about mistakes. None of us can do that.”
What made this result so damaging, besides the fact it will drain away what remained of United’s confidence, is the fact they actually performed pretty well. Indeed, when Billy Sharp cancelled-out Josh Koromo’s opener just before Samuels-Cowill pounced, there was a real sense inside the stadium they could snatch a victory.
The momentum was with United and Huddersfield, who admittedly were starting to make inroads just before Koroma’s strike, had spent the majority of the afternoon fighting a rearguard action as United dominated the ball and set up camp around their box. Despite finishing with no points, the hosts enjoyed more possession (70 percent), more shots (16) and more shots on target (6), with Lee Nicholls producing an excellent save to prevent Oli McBurnie’s overhead kick sneaking into the bottom corner of his net on the stroke of half-time.
Debutant Ben Davies and Rhys Norrington-Davies, making his first league start for United since progressing through their academy, both impressed.
Although Jokanovic tried to put on a brave face, Saturday’s events will have left him baffled too. A proven, accomplished and decorated manager, he has changed tactics, personnel and gameplans in an attempt to arrest United’s decline without any success. Well, almost everything. Earlier this summer, he calculated five new faces were required to lift their spirits. With nine days of the transfer window remaining, only one - Liverpool defender Davies - has arrived on loan.
“We played our best game, which sounds like a joke because we lost,” Jokanovic said. “We crossed from one side to another. Maybe we were unlucky but maybe we didn't find enough clarity. And that can kill you. They killed us. It is hard for the mentality.”