Sheffield United: The one change Slavisa Jokanovic and his team never contemplated making during their hard-fought win over Derby County
Absolving a penalty-taker of his or her responsibilities as soon as they miss from the spot is becoming the fashion in English football, with even Mark Noble facing calls to be stripped of his position as West Ham’s designated taker after failing to convert for the first time in five years.
But speaking after Billy Sharp scored one in the 88th minute of Sheffield United’s game against Derby County last weekend - seven days after seeing another saved during a win over Hull City - manager Slavisa Jokanovic has told The Star there was never a debate among Bramall Lane’s coaching staff about whether the captain should step aside in favour of Oliver Norwood or Conor Hourihane; another dead ball specialist.
“I am always trying to analyse the game,” Jokanovic said, acknowledging he still believes United’s players should “trust” their ability more despite being relegated from the Premier League earlier this year. “I complained about body shape and attitude and trust at some periods in the game. But, from another side, I didn’t detect this in Billy Sharp’s case.
“A lot of the time, Oliver Norwood is the guy who can take a penalty in this situation. I have several guys who can do that. But we didn’t feel it was necessary to make a change in this case. You can miss one. Anyone can miss. That doesn’t mean to say you aren’t good at what you do.
“I repeat, even if he doesn’t score the goal (at Hull), I didn’t think it was necessary to make a change.”
Norwood, who played under Jokanovic at Fulham when the Londoners were promoted from the Championship, wasn’t on the pitch when Curtis Davies inexplicably decided to clear one of the crosses being rained into the County box with his fist. But Hourihane, whose delivery lured the defender into making the mistake, was. Introduced precisely because of the accuracy of his passing, Hourihane could easily have been asked to apply the coup-de-grace. But Sharp, with Jokanovic’s blessing, picked up the ball and smashed it home beyond Ryan Allsop. Having finally broken County’s resistance - despite being reduced to 10 men at the beginning of the second-half, Wayne Rooney’s men had successfully repelled a series of United attacks following Kelle Roos’ dismissal - United now enter Tuesday’s game at Middlesbrough searching for their fourth win in five league outings since the international break.
“There are people with strong personalities here,” Jokanovic said. “I think that is a positive thing, a very positive thing in fact. There are several who can take them but why change now? Billy showed that he wants to take them with how he carried himself. He showed that he wants to take them. But it is also good that we have options for different situations.”
"There are things that we can improve and must look at, all of us including myself,” he added. “But it is not always necessary to make changes for the sake of it and this was one of those times.”