Sheffield United: 'We'll get things right' insists skipper as Slavisa Jokanovic approaches the end of a critical and challenging period

The damage caused to Sheffield United’s self-belief by one of the most tumultuous periods in the club’s recent history will only be repaired by results, Billy Sharp has admitted, as Slavisa Jokanovic’s side prepares for its return to action following the international break.

By James Shield
Wednesday, 8th September 2021, 4:05 pm

United enter this weekend’s game against Peterborough still searching for their first win in the competition under the Serb, who was appointed as Chris Wilder’s successor in May.

Jokanovic inherited a squad of players not only scarred by the departure of a manager who had twice led them to promotion but also dangerously low on confidence after being relegated from the Premier League despite finishing ninth only a season earlier.

With a difficult transfer window only adding to the disruption - the board of directors only delivering the majority of Jokanovic’s targets just before the deadline - United have made a predictably slow start to the new campaign, with EFL Cup triumphs over Carlisle and Derby County their only victories since the former Watford and Fulham chief’s arrival.

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West Bromwich, England, 18th August 2021. Dara O'Shea of West Bromwich Albion chases Billy Sharp of Sheffield Utd during the Sky Bet Championship match at The Hawthorns, West Bromwich. Picture credit should read: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

Jokanovic sounded exasperated with aspects of his team’s performance during last month’s goalless draw with Luton Town; a match the 53-year-old’s counterpart Nathan Jones argued, with much justification, the hosts were unfortunate not to win.

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s contest at Bramall Lane, Sharp acknowledged: “If we go on a four game winning streak, or three or whatever, then that will really set us going.

“It’s just getting that first win. When it comes, that will set everything off. Experience tells me that and I know we’re getting there.”

Sharp, still the most prolific and reliable attacker at United’s disposal despite their two seasons in the top-flight, backed Jokanovic to become a huge hit in South Yorkshire before the hiatus in the fixture calendar - revealing how senior members of the dressing room endorsed his appointment when the news was first reported by The Star.

Swansea, Wales, 14th August 2021. Slavisa Jokanovic manager of Sheffield Utd during the Sky Bet Championship match at the Stadium, Swansea. Picture credit should read: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

Identifying one of the problems those players not called up by their countries have been seeking to address at the Steelphalt Academy over the past fortnight - conditions at the training complex have also been a source of frustration among the players and coaches alike - Sharp continued: “We want to get on the scoresheet in matches first too. I think that’s vitally important because not only does it help you dictate what is happening but it also gives you a massive psychological lift.

“We need to get out of the blocks quicker because, whenever we’ve had success, we’ve always been renowned for starting games well.”

The arrival of Conor Hourihane and Morgan Gibbs-White, on loan from Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers respectively, should help to increase the supply of chances to an attack which has been starved of service in recent weeks.

Despite finding the back of the net in two of his last three outings, Sharp said: “You’re always playing for your place, no matter what happens.

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09: Billy Sharp of Sheffield United celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Premier League match between Sheffield United and AFC Bournemouth at Bramall Lane on February 09, 2020 in Sheffield, United Kingdom. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

“The manager made it clear he wanted to strengthen in a few areas, and that’s what he asked for.

“I’ve gone on record to say that I’m not a big fan of the window being opened once the games are underway because I think it causes disruption. But it is what it is and now we have to look forward and put the things we’ve been working on into practice.”

The challenge facing United now, given the painfully slow speed with which Jokanovic’s employers move in the market, is ensuring Hourihane, Gibbs-White and Robin Olsen, acquired on a season long basis from AS Roma, become conversant with their methods as quickly as possible.

Having only officially started work on July 1st, and with the warm-up programme he devised in tandem with those members of the coaching staff United retained following Wilder’s exit being wrecked by the Covid-19 pandemic, Jokanovic viewed the break in the schedule as a crucial and potentially season defining moment - providing him with an opportunity to relay his ideas without distraction. Although the likes of Olsen and Hourihane have been called-up by their respective countries, United’s procrastination when it comes to recruitment means much of that work must now take place in real-game situations.

“The gaffer wants us to play football, but football with a real purpose,” Sharp said. “We’ve been showing it in training but not out there on the pitch where it actually matters, which is obviously something we’ve got to put right straight away.

“What I do know, though, is that when it clicks and everything falls into place it’s going to look really good. And it will be effective too, because everyone knows how difficult his teams have been to play against in the past and how strong they’ve been.”

Ben Davies’ seamless transition from Liverpool to United after becoming the first of the loan deals United have brokered this summer suggests, as Jokanovic has intimated on numerous occasions recently, that quality players grasp fresh tactics quickly. The centre-half, who was featured on Wilder’s wanted list before leaving Preston North End in January, has cut a calm and composed figure during his two appearances so far.

“We’ve got a good group, we know that and everyone else knows that as well,” Sharp said. “But you always have to keep driving things forward - individually and collectively. Bringing a few news faces in will help with that, because we know the manager only wants quality players so they add to what we’ve already got.”