Championship side Sheffield United fell to their second consecutive defeat on Saturday afternoon against promotion favourites AFC Bournemouth, setting them back further in their own quest to return to the top flight.
Finishing ninth in the Premier League at the end of the 2019/20 campaign but failing to win any of their opening 17 league games and ending up at the foot of the table last term, Slavisa Jokanovic’s men will be keen to atone for this after their shoddy start to this season.
However, they are currently their own worst enemy with their last two results, losing consecutive away games against Middlesbrough and the Cherries and currently sitting in 14th place, going ahead through Morgan Gibbs-White on the south coast before Dominic Solanke and Philip Billing turned the game on its head.
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Despite cashing in on star man Aaron Ramsdale over the summer, their start has been well below many peoples’ expectations and they go into the latest international break ten points adrift of the automatic promotion spots.
With their promotion-winning manager and many Premier League-quality players at their disposal, the Blades are unlikely to face the drop this term, but they are currently just four points above the relegation zone and look set to be engaged in a mid-table battle if they fail to drastically improve their form.
Focusing more on Saturday though, we have selected three things we learnt about the South Yorkshire outfit after their 2-1 defeat at the Vitality Stadium.
They are still mentally brittle
After doing so well to get ahead through Morgan Gibbs-White against a fellow promotion competitor in the 56th minute, they found themselves pegged back just six minutes later and conceded again just a few minutes after the equaliser.
Suffering heavily during the 2020/21 campaign after such a promising season in 2019/20, it’s no wonder they were mentally brittle earlier this year as they were relegated from the Premier League.
Perhaps it was no surprise then that their form remained unchanged at the start of this term after failing to bring in multiple signings before the first international break, before recruiting three more loanees on top of Ben Davies in the final couple of days of the summer window.
These signings looked to have changed things for the Blades after a promising start and middle of September, but the concession of a late equaliser to Preston North End, their failure to get back in the game against Middlesbrough in midweek and collapse against Bournemouth show there’s still work to be done on the mental side of their game.
Trust (both in themselves and the process) has been a key word used by manager Jokanovic recently – and with good reason.
Morgan Gibbs-White will consistently step up for the Blades
After a promising start to his Sheffield United loan, joining from Wolverhampton Wanderers on a temporary deal on deadline day, he has followed that up with another goal at the Vitality Stadium.
He initially missed the header from Robin Olsen’s long kick – but didn’t let that dishearten him as he had the knowledge to race in the box and get on the end of Billy Sharp’s cross.
It may not be the most impressive goal, especially from a huge goalkeeping kick downfield, but that willingness to get in the right position shows why he should be playing in the Premier League.
At just 21 and not playing a huge amount of senior football in the last couple of years, there may have been scepticism over whether he could keep up his fine spell of form for the Blades, but his goal and performance in this latest tie has shown he should be starting for a side week in, week out.
Saturday’s strike has taken his goal contributions tally up to five goals in six games – an impressive total.
We can no longer call Sheffield United certain promotion contenders
With Slavisa Jokanovic at the helm, who has won Championship promotion with Watford and Fulham in the past, they were the early favourites to get back to the Premier League at the first time of asking, gaining an advantage over West Brom who had failed to appoint a new man until the end of June.
However, a disappointing summer window in terms of the timing of their recruitment and their failure to fully address their lack of options on the wing compounded a terrible start to the campaign, winning just two points from a possible 15 in the opening five league games of the season.
They looked to have got themselves back on track after winning ten points from a possible 12 between their games against Peterborough United and Derby County – but their two recent losses are a huge setback.
AFC Bournemouth may be a strong opposition and one of very few sides that may have had a shout of beating United on paper, but the South Yorkshire side had to redeem themselves after a disappointing 2-0 loss and failed to do so.
They may only be six points away from the play-offs still, but there are many strong teams in the promotion mix right now and they will really need to up their game and consistency to force their way into contention.
After assuming they would be in the top six solely due to their players and manager on paper, we can no longer automatically label them as a promotion favourite. They now have to earn that label.