Why Sheffield United and Hull City both need to show greater maturity

EIGHT hundred and eighty days on from their club’s previous Championship away win – at the very same venue, coincidentally – a bumper Sheffield United away contingent again basked in the sunshine at the final whistle.

Last time around, the sense of euphoria which followed that famous Easter Monday victory over Hull City in April 2019 showcased the fact that the Blades were almost there in their quest to return to the big time.

In the here and now, United are pretty much starting out on what they hope will be another special journey to the Premier League.

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On a day of milestones, Saturday’s latest win was a welcome development from a visiting perspective amid a seven-day spell which has seen the Slavisa Jokanovic era truly begin in earnest.

John Egan celebrates after scoring Sheffield United's second goal (Picture: SImon Hulme)

Although listening to the Serb afterwards, it was clear that he was not entirely appeased.

It was partly explained by a manager’s need to employ that time-honoured tactic of keeping players on their toes after a good result, but owed more to the fact that his side will face stiffer tests with all due respect to Hull City.

In fairness, there is still plenty more improvement from those in red and white. Grant McCann’s concern was more disquieting.

Ahead of the game, the talk was of the Tigers not scoring a goal in nine hours of Championship football. That wait extended to over 10 hours, although a consolation strike from Keane Lewis-Potter did at least mean that City avoided setting an unwanted club record of going seven league matches without finding the net.

Milestone marked: Billy Sharp reels away in celebration after scoring for Sheffield United in the win at Hull City (Picture: Simon Hulme)

That moment also annoyed Jokanovic, irked that his side did not show a ‘killer instinct’ after leading 3-0 after 61 minutes.

But in the grander scheme of things, McCann had much more on his plate.

Goals have been hard to find, though at the other end, his side look soft and susceptible from set-plays once again. Having issues at both ends of the pitch in September is never good.

While bothered by the fact that his side scored, in his eyes, a legitimate goal late on through ex-Blades forward Tyler Smith, which would have made things pretty interesting at 3-2 had it been given and not ruled out for offside, McCann commendably did not moan about United’s two second-half goals when many in his shoes might have.

Hull's Richard Smallwood is challenged by Morgan Gibbs-White and Ben Davies of Sheffield United (Picture: Simon Hulme)

John Egan outmuscled Mallik Wilks to get a free run to head home Conor Hourihane’s corner to make it 2-0 in the opening salvos of the second period with Billy Sharp also cleverly blocking a Hull defender in the build-up.

Earlier, Sharp, in his 300th career appearance for United, found space between Di’Shon Bernard and Lewie Coyle before planting a downward header past Matt Ingram in classic fashion following a delightful cross from Morgan Gibbs-White, who showed vestiges of pure class for the second weekend running.

“It was a great ball and I could not really miss”, was the Blades striker’s take on United’s opener.

Sharp – who gave City’s rearguard a bit of a schooling in truth – would miss a penalty towards the end of the half when brought down from behind by Jacob Greaves after latching onto Gibbs-White’s pinpoint pass.

It was his first spot-kick failure for three years, but Sharp is never down for long.

More streetwise play enabled Egan to latch onto another fine inswinging Hourihane corner to make the game safe at 3-0 with a clinical header at the near post.

It was men against boys, as McCann admitted afterwards. When you go man for man and don’t win your battles, you are bang in trouble.

Hull Fair starts next month and not too many City players will be having a go on the ‘Test your strength’ stall, at this rate.

Hull keeper Ingram, who had made a splendid save low down to his right to keep out Sharp’s penalty, said: “There are fine details we need to work on and get better at.

“It is a tough thing to work on in training as it is not a technical or tactical thing, it is literally sticking with your man and making sure he does not score.

“If I have to come to the ball, I do that and clean everyone out and it’s job done. But as a goalkeeper, you cannot come for every ball.”

On City’s form, he added: “I would not say confidence is that bad to be honest as it is such a fine thing we are getting wrong. We have to address it quickly.”

United may have ended an uplifting week in fitting fashion, but the big word doing the rounds in their camp after the game was ruthlessness.

At 3-0 up with half an hour left, Jokanovic wanted his teamto show their cold-blooded side. In the event, the next goal came from Hull when Lewis-Potter turned in Tyler Smith’s cross from the right.

Jokanovic was not particularly happy and Sharp knew where he was coming from.

Sharp commented: “I thought we were really good in spells of the game, but then had a little sloppy spell where we let them back in the game.

“Tyler Smith came on and changed the game a little bit for them, getting in behind us and we were sloppy in the final third. We know we can do better, but three points is the main thing.

“The gaffer has been onto us about our set-pieces not being good enough and has given us all the details and we have not put them into action and performed them, but he will be delighted with the two set-piece goals.”

Jokanovic’s happiness was tempered. United have more growing up to do, in his words. McCann would say the same about his own side.