Sheffield United: Why Slavisa Jokanovic refused to press the panic button following defeat at Middlesbrough, despite admitting his team lost the physical war

Slavisa Jokanovic, the Sheffield United manager, told his players not to become too despondent following their defeat by Middlesbrough, identifying a “positive attitude” and refusal to over-react as two essential ingredients in any successful Championship team.

Wednesday, 29th September 2021, 5:00 am

Despite issuing a brutally frank critique of United’s performance at the Riverside, admitting they had lost the physical war against opponents who prevailed courtesy of first-half goals from Duncan Watmore and Paddy McNair.

But with only three days to go until Saturday’s visit to AFC Bournemouth, another club expected to be challenging for promotion come the end of the season, Jokanovic told The Star: “I am never satisfied after a loss, never. But equally, I don’t want to give the sensation that we are taking lots of steps backwards.

“If you are fighting for an important prize, you must be ready for lots of different challenges and lots of different situations.

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Middlesbrough, England, 28th September 2021. Slavisa Jokanovic manager of Sheffield Utd during the Sky Bet Championship match at the Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough. Picture credit should read: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

“We must be ready for the next challenge. In this competition, sometimes you take a small step backwards and have experiences like this. But you must not be depressed. You must trust in the process and be positive.

“In a few days time, we will have a chance to wash our faces and offer more than we did here.”

United arrived on Teesside unbeaten in five league outings, while Neil Warnock’s Middlesbrough were towards the bottom of the form table. Warnock, one of Jokanovic’s most successful predecessors, revealed afterwards he had changed formation in order to try and catch his former club by surprise. Although Jokanovic acknowledged United had failed “to find the space” they wanted, he cited the opposition’s superior physicality as the defining factor of last night’s contest.

“They were strong and quick and they were the winners of the second balls,” Jokanovic said. “It is not a question of confidence. That was a physical game and they beat us in that.”

Middlesbrough, England, 28th September 2021. Morgan Gibbs-White of Sheffield Utd has a shot on goal during the Sky Bet Championship match at the Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough. Picture credit should read: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

“I can not be happy,” he added. “But from another side, I can not be surprised either because no game in this division is easy. When you are in a process, you can take positive steps and sometimes steps backwards. We need continuity in the process.”