Sheffield United v Millwall: Patient approach is chosen to help Blades be in the mix
Right-back Jayden Bogle had to wait until mid-October for his first Championship start for the club, and when it came, the Blades had to show perseverance.
The hosts went 1-0 down to Stoke City but won with goals from substitutes David McGoldrick and Lys Mousset. After a style which at times could be gloriously helter-skelter under Chris Wilder, the Blades have been asked to take things down a gear or two at times and see the bigger picture.
That said, there is nothing patient about a schedule which throws them straight back into action at home to Millwall this evening, then sends them to Barnsley on Sunday.
Jokanovic, whose teams have a history of starting seasons slowly and finishing strongly is relying on a big squad but it is about more than stockpiling bodies. Those on the outside, as Bogle has been, cannot simply accept their fate nor can they let their competitiveness rub up against the greater good.
“In training throughout the week, just make sure you’re giving your all and working hard, that’s a big part of it,” explains Bogle. “You just have to be positive around the boys, especially on gameday.”
Once upon a time, managers could treat players not in their XI as if they did not exist if they wanted but in this era of squad football, Jokanovic feels he needs to look after those on the fringes more than his starters.
“It’s easier for the people who play the games, they don’t need so much support,” he argues.
“All the players need and expect some feedback. It’s most important for the people not immediately involved in the games. They need to have bright heads.
“We cannot fight for important things with (only) 11 players.
“In the last game we played a good game but it was important we had help from the bench.
“You probably need to care about the people in the stands more. If you ask me is it more important to talk to John Egan, Ben Osborn or Billy Sharp, I am talking less with them than the people not in my first plan because it is more clear for them.”
The patience applies just as much to those selected in the matches, stresses Bogle.
“It can be a little bit difficult at times but the way we want to play as a team requires us to be patient and pick the right times to go forward,” he says.
“We can’t go every time because by the 30th, 40th minute we’d be shattered.
“When we do go we need to make sure we go aggressively to score goals and we’ve done that a lot recently.
“The fans have been great as well, really supportive of the boys. There’s probably been a transition in the way we play from last season and before I was here and it was probably a lot faster – attack, attack, attack – where now I think the fans are used to us building up a bit more.
“It’s a very long season with a lot of games and a lot of chances for people to play so it’s about being patient. It’s important we’re ready and if we all keep the positive mindset I think we’ll achieve what we want to achieve at the end of the season.
“At (previous club) Derby I was playing a lot of games so not being in the squad or being on the bench was different (as was often the case last season, his first at Bramall Lane, too) but it’s part of football and it happens to everybody.
“I understood it quickly, which was important.
“It’s hard as a player but that’s where you have to be mentally strong and deal with it.”
Jokanovic’s history of slow-burning seasons and the depth of a squad which was in last term’s Premier League should give confidence that starting today in the bottom half of the Championship is no cause for panic, but Bogle is wary of complacency too.
“That (record) gives us confidence but we have to keep picking up points,” he says.
“What happens at the end of the season will happen and I don’t think we can look too far ahead, we just need to focus on what’s in front of us.”
Creeping up on the outside is not the idea, the manager insists.
“There’s never a plan to start slowly and reach a higher level, it’s simply a kind of process,” says Jokanovic.
“This pre-season was really untypical, we had to compete after one game against Doncaster and one against a team from Gibraltar.
“We didn’t have the opportunity to make the team feel more comfortable with different shapes and other things but we have a more clear way now.
“I am confident we will play better than before but we want to win every game.”
Last six games: Sheffield United WLLWDW; Millwall LWWDLD
Referee: M Donohue (Greater Manchester)
Last time: Sheffield United 1 Millwall 1, April 13, 2019, Championship.