Sheffield United: The woeful passage of play that highlighted the problems Slavisa Jokanovic inherited, as he waits for transfer "promises" to be kept
One moment, when Sheffield United were actually enjoying one of their better periods of the game, summed-up perfectly where Slavisa Jokanovic’s team is right now.
Well, we’ll call it his team for the sake of convenience. But really it isn’t. Thirteen of the 14 players who faced Luton Town over the weekend were either signed by someone else or came through the club’s youth system. With the transfer window due to close on Tuesday, the Serb appears resigned to the fact that most of the targets he identified before taking charge two months ago will never materialise.
But more of that later. Back to the incident which perfectly highlighted why United already find themselves 11 point adrift of the automatic promotion pace. It happened with five minutes remaining when, after spending most of the afternoon being given the runaround by Nathan Jones’ side, they finally wrestled back the momentum and began to press for a winner.
With pressure being applied to the hosts’ left flank, the ball made its way to Sander Berge who was in the perfect position to shoot. He failed to control. The chance appeared to be gone. But then Rhian Brewster seized possession and spotted his fellow substitute Luke Freeman in space. What should have been a cross actually turned out to be a clearance. Nearly £46m worth of talent, acquired with the club’s own money, failed to do its job.
“I didn’t enjoy it,” Jokanovic said, when asked for his reflections on this goalless draw at Kenilworth Road. “I don’t think my players will have enjoyed it either and the same goes for our fans. They won’t have been entertained by that and Luton, yes, they were the better side.”
Although the post-game conversation will inevitably focus on shape and formation, United’s poor start to the season can’t be attributed to strategy. Luton, who saw Harry Cornick hit the woodwork at the beginning of the second-half, were the dominant force because they did the basics well. United didn’t. In fact, the warriors who reached the Premier League two years ago appear to have been utterly emasculated by their relegation last term.
Berge seems either incapable or disinterested in embracing the physicality of English football. Brewster appears utterly lost. Behind him, someone doing a terrible impression of John Fleck seems to have ghosted their way into midfield. The list goes on, with possibly only Billy Sharp, Chris Basham, John Egan and George Baldock producing acceptable levels of performance. Oh, and on-loan defender Ben Davies - which highlights another issue.
Having lost 30 of their 43 outings leading up to his appointment, United had clearly gone stale long before Jokanovic was confirmed in post in May. He recognised they needed a refresh. But next to nothing has happened. It is significant that whenever he is now asked about recruitment, Jokanovic refers to “promises” rather than plans.
“Yes, I am still expecting things to happen,” the Serb said, possibly more in hope than expectation. “I am told we are making progress and so we will see. Initially we were talking numbers but, for the past few months, we have been talking about names.”