Sheffield United: The seeds of their opening day defeat to Birmingham City were sown long before The Blades faced Lee Bowyer's side

Maxime Colin might have delivered what proved to be the decisive blow but, when Slavisa Jokanovic finishes poring over the footage of this game, he will suspect the seeds of Sheffield United’s defeat were sown long before the Frenchman guided the ball home beyond Aaron Ramsdale midway through the opening period of an otherwise evenly-balanced contest at Bramall Lane.

Sunday, 8th August 2021, 12:37 pm

Whereas Colin and his Birmingham City colleagues entered the new Championship season on the back of a well-organised warm-up programme - completing five friendly games against meaningful opposition either side of a training camp in Troon - United’s preparations had descended into chaos when Covid-19 wrecked their schedule.

And it showed, with the visitors able to execute the game-plan Lee Bowyer had devised to nullify the threat posed by a squad which, despite being laden with talent, is clearly still getting to grips with their new manager’s modus operandi.

“We showed a lot of things that were good but also a lot of things that we need to work on,” Jokanovic confessed afterwards, despite refusing countless invitations to acknowledge United are inevitably under-cooked after taking part in only two dress rehearsals for Saturday’s Championship opener. “I can’t complain about things that are beyond my control. I won’t complain.

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Birmingham City's Maxime Colin tackled by Sheffield United's Ben Osborn during the Sky Bet Championship match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield: Nigel French/PA Wire

“But we didn’t complete everything that we had in our minds. My players, they finished tired because none of them have had more than 65 minutes this summer. We are disappointed because we didn’t win and put a smile on people’s faces, obviously. But I also thought they showed personality and character.”

Relegated from the Premier League last season, United’s performance was symptomatic of a team which knows what it is supposed to be doing but lacks a clear picture in its head of how to do it. Little wonder too, after being forced to isolate for 10 days following an outbreak at the Steelphalt Academy before seeing a meeting with Norwich City also fall victim to the pandemic.

City, by contrast, were decisive and fluent. Perhaps the best decision Bowyer and his employers made this summer wasn’t signing Tahith Chong on loan - the Manchester United youngster impressing in an unfamiliar midfield role - but choosing to base themselves in the British Isles rather than overseas.

It was City’s greater sense of purpose which, 19 minutes into Jokanovic’s first match at the helm, enabled them to exploit a weakness in United’s armoury. Ben Osborn, deployed as a make-shift wing-back in Enda Stevens’ absence, wasn’t instinctively alert to the danger when Jeremie Bela, following a neat exchange with Ryan Woods, delivered a perfectly flighted cross into the hosts’ penalty area. But Colin was, taking advantage of the fact that Osborn, an accomplished midfielder, was square-on to head the ball home.

Oliver Burke hit the post soon after, as United looked to respond. But with his fellow centre-forward Lys Mousset later limping-off injured, they were unable to truly test Matija Sarkic in the City goal despite dominating territory and possession. United should, however, have been awarded a penalty when John Fleck’s shot was handled by Gary Gardner. But referee Tim Robinson, with no recourse to VAR, waved away their appeals.