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ON THE ROAD: Slavisa Jokanovic’s side looks set to head straight back to the Premier League


In the age of social media and clickbait websites, an endless news cycle and a vacuum of opinion, overreactions are easy to find.

The old adage of studying the rankings in the early months is often ignored and summer forecasts are routinely written off for the second international break. Much has been written and said about Sheffield United in the past two weeks.

Five games, zero wins, one goal. Not good enough to challenge for promotion. Another one to follow in the footsteps of the huge list of clubs dropping out of the Premier League and plunging.

Sheffield United was quickly written off but now look set to return to the Premier League

The bookmakers were crazy to have them as favorites to move up. Those were some of the sweeping statements from fans and pundits after the slow start to the season for the Blades under Slavisa Jokanovic.

So here are a few more measured statements. Sheffield United have a squad that is ready to fight seriously for an immediate return to the Premier League, and a tried and true manager who is equipped to achieve it.

With Peterborough’s dismantling on Saturday, six goals at Bramall Lane, there should have been many more, Blades look all promotional material, despite their pre-match position in the relegation zone with just one goal in the competition.

It was a great performance with brilliant individual displays that gave the fans a day to remember. There have been few happy days for Blades fans in the past 18 months.

Indeed, the Peterborough and Preston playlist was more like trips to Prague and Porto in fans’ not-so-wildest dreams just a year or so ago. When Project Restart took off, Chris Wilder’s men had a realistic shot at European football but missed out, instead settling for a – still very admirable – ninth place finish in the Premier League.

Saturday went overboard as the Blades defeated Peterborough 6-2 at Bramall Lane

Saturday went overboard as the Blades defeated Peterborough 6-2 at Bramall Lane

What came next, however, was nothing short of catastrophic. Rhian Brewster, a £23.5 million summer signing, finished the campaign with a big nil goal. Star defender Jack O’Connell suffered a cruciate ligament injury at the end of the season.

Perhaps a metaphor for their season-long car crash, Lys Mousset head-on smashed his £300,000 Lamborghini into parked vehicles and was charged by police.

Wilder soon left the club and relegation – inevitably for months – was confirmed in an April loss to Wolves. The team scored just 20 league goals, a joint record low with Derby in 2007–08.

They performed under Wilder. While his departure seemed surprising and bitter, a clear footprint has been left behind, which Serbian boss Jokanovic will not ignore.

Perhaps Wilder’s most tangible legacy is the proud academy in Shirecliffe that has been shaken up in recent years. His reputation is of course well established, just look at the England team at the European Championship.

Iliman Ndiaye and Ben Osborn (left) both scored twice in an eight-goal thriller against Posh

Iliman Ndiaye and Ben Osborn (left) both scored twice in an eight-goal thriller against Posh

Harry Maguire, Kyle Walker, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Aaron Ramsdale, all talents forged in the red side of the Steel City.

But Wilder decided to revise the academy’s syllabus to protect the club’s future, with former Nottingham Forest coach Jack Lester at the helm, with the slogan adorning the dressing room wall on Bramall Lane: outrun, outfight, outplay.

It’s too early to see the fruits of the academy’s overhaul, but it’s clear that the club believes the wheels of the assembly line are turning again, with high hopes for many, not least the 1.80m. tall slim attacker Daniel Jebbison.

Another example is Iliman Ndiaye, the 21-year-old Frenchman who developed in the academy after being plucked from Boreham Wood as a teenager.

He scored two in Saturday’s game with two neat finishes on his full championship debut. Ben Osborn, a man struggling for consistency since moving from Nottingham Forest, also notched a brace.

The Yorkshire club has an experienced manager who can promote them immediately

The Yorkshire club has an experienced manager who can promote them immediately

“I coach him and see a lot of positive opinions about him,” Jokanovic told Ndiaye. “If I believe a man can bring something, I’ll try him. Our supporters will appreciate his style.’

A manager who is not afraid to bring in young talent is always refreshing. Fellow debutant Morgan Gibbs-White, on loan from Wolves, was the man of the match. He scored one, but sparkled the entire time, to the right of perennial leader Billy Sharp, 36, who provided three assists.

Above all, it seems that the players are starting to reciprocate Jokanovic’s faith. Why wouldn’t they? He won promotion to both Watford and Fulham at his previous two English clubs.

“It is perfectly acceptable if we play like Manchester City or if we play like Atletico Madrid,” Jokanovic said during his recent two-year coaching in Qatar. “All styles, offensive or defensive, can produce results, but it just depends on the tool.”

At Bramall Lane, the Serb has an army of tools and based on Saturday’s evidence, those tools could form a perfectly balanced side to challenge for an immediate return to the top flight.


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