Sheffield United produced their best performance under Slavisa Jokanovic against the Terriers. So what?
Winning is all that really matters. The boos at Bramall Lane after Huddersfield’s dramatic late victory bore that out.
Even this early in the season, United desperately need a Championship win. Billy Sharp scored their first league goal of 2021-22 but no one took solace from that, or totally outplaying the Terriers without putting them down. That they could not had a lot to do with the spirit of Carlos Corberan’s team.
Seven days ago, Huddersfield had won only three games in 2021. They seem to find new ways to lose players – the latest a spinal injury expected to keep Jordan Rhodes out for “a couple of months” – but beat Preston North End on Tuesday and beat the Blades twice on Saturday.
The difference in assurance between the three games goalkeeper Lee Nicholls has played and the two he missed with mercifully mild Covid-19 is stark.
The drama of stoppage time heightened emotions in the stands, Sharp equalising in the second added minute only for 18-year-old centre-back Levi Colwill to find a winner. Fans spilt onto the grass as Town celebrated in front of the away end. A furious row kicked off in a corner of the South Stand at full-time.
Blades fans have every right to be angry. Much of their terrific support during a second half when their team pushed to make the scoreline more realistic eventually ebbed.
They are being let down badly, less by players mentally defeated by a year of losing, less a manager trying desperately to find a solution – neither is blameless – more by a board asleep at the wheel.
They are right not to spend money they do not have but Jokanovic told them in May they needed four new players, soon upgraded to five, and all they have is loanee Ben Davies, who debuted alongside youth product Rhys Norrington-Davies’s encouraging first league start.
The Blades have parachute payments to preserve a squad promoted two years ago but clubs relegated from the Premier League need fumigating.
“Fresh blood, we need it,” said Jokanovic. “We are talking about this.”
Less talk, more action, please.
Even after Paul Heckingbottom gave glimpses last season of what was in the youth cupboard and Jokanovic test drove some in his only win, in the League Cup, Norrington-Davies was the first trusted in the Championship.
The Blades have been bad sellers. Aaron Ramsdale only left on Friday, Sander Berge is still there. Neither were players you would want to push out – Berge was excellent in midfield – but had to be sacrificed to fund a refresh.
Huddersfield know all about post-relegation rot. For four seasons they have fought (or in season two, participated in) four relegation battles with four managers. Their post-Premier League squad was overhauled, but on the cheap. If anyone is entitled to feel sorry for themselves, it is them.
In the first half they looked afraid to win. Only odd moments like Colwill’s deep early challenge showed much fight, but they had plenty of discipline and organisation. Josh Korona was very wide at times in the front two, first right to discourage Norrington-Davies from getting forward, then left as the Blades got into the old routine down that side.
Jokanovic has put more emphasis on possession – 71 per cent on Saturday – but for the first time he played Chris Wilder’s 3-5-2 and as one wing-back crossed for the other and Chris Basham bombed outside George Baldock, they looked the part. The lack of goals was familiar too, Oli McBurnie’s overhead kick Nicholls’s only difficulty in 45 minutes. The muzzled Terriers did not have a shot.
They showed more bark if not bite at the start of the second half. The Blades stepped up too but it was all passes, crosses – 34 in all – and Huddersfield blocks.
Warning/encouragement came in the 72nd-minute when Oliver Norwood’s sloppy pass let in Fraizer Campbell to dwell long enough for Norrington-Davies to step across. Three minutes later Koroma was played in and although Wes Foderingham saved with his left foot, he showed great composure to net the rebound.
Sharp beat the ground in frustration at apparently passing up a point, connecting sweetly with an acrobatic volley but thumping it straight at Nicholls.
When he span onto a knockdown his equaliser felt like a winner but Huddersfield were not defeated, Harry Toffolo shrugging Davies off and squaring for Colwill in an embarrassing amount of space to equalise.
Huddersfield’s challenge is turning fortunate wins into more substantial ones. With this spirit, and Nicholls and Toffolo back from Covid-19, it looks possible.
United need a bit of what the Terriers had in their hearts, and with it luck will probably follow. But they cannot wait for it to happen. The transfer deadline is a week on Wednesday.