Sheffield United: So who are Europa Point, The Blades' first opponents of the Slavisa Jokanovic era?
and live on Freeview channel 276
Unless they are regular visitors to Gibraltar or dedicated aficionados of the territory’s football scene, that was the question on most Sheffield United fans’ lips when their team’s pre-season schedule was published earlier today.
The answer can be found on the club’s internet page, which explains when and why it was founded plus a raft of other details about its sporting philosophy. And reading those paragraphs, you quickly begin to realise why Slavisa Jokanovic has chosen them to provide the opposition for his first appearance on a touchline since officially being unveiled as United’s manager.
Other than expediency of course, with government travel restrictions imposed because of the Covid-19 virus forcing officials at Bramall Lane to cancel a training camp in Portugal and head for Spain instead.
Coached by Andy Pritchard, Europa Point FC already boast strong links with South Yorkshire and north Derbyshire having once signed a partnership agreement with Chesterfield giving United’s neighbours an option on any of their players. Many of those have been harvested from English youth academies, with EP describing themselves as the ‘Stepping Stone Club’. Their raison d’etre, according to their biographer, is to provide youngsters released by teams in Spain, Great Britain and other non-EU nations with a chance to resurrect their careers and then move elsewhere.
Jokanovic and his advisors, when they were forced to pull the plug on a planned meeting with Braga in Albufeira, will have calculated that means the majority of those under Pritchard’s command are going to be of a certain standard. Plus, although they are unlikely to challenge United physically, EP will bring plenty of tenacity to the table as some of those facing the visitors from England attempt to catch Jokanovic’s eye.
Founded in 2014, after Gibraltar’s domestic league received UEFA accreditation, EP stage their home league matches at Victoria Stadium; a multi-purpose venue situated on Winston Churchill Avenue near the British overseas territory’s international airport. In fact, every other major side under the GFA’s jurisdiction competes there following a recent renovation.
After returning from overseas next week, United’s next assignment is against Doncaster Rovers on July 28 before facing Norwich City three days later. With plenty of slack in the schedule, United are thought to be ready to add more fixtures to their diary if suitable opportunities arise.
If not, Jokanovic has let it be known he will use the time to ensure United’s squad fully comprehends the tactics and strategies he hopes can lead them back into the Premier League at the first time of asking. Relegated from the top-flight last term, United have already been installed among the favourites to challenge for promotion after appointing Jokanovic in May. The Serb is known to be an advocate of repetition on the training ground, believing the ability to play attractive but effective football is underpinned by an understanding of team shape.
United’s game against Rovers takes place at the Keepmoat Stadium while City have agreed to visit South Yorkshire. All three will be streamed live, although it is hoped fans will be able to attend the final two.