Sheffield United forward Billy Sharp has said manager Slavisa Jokanovic identified set-pieces as a key area to work on before their 3-1 win at the MKM Stadium against Hull City at the weekend, speaking to SUTV.
The 35-year-old opened the scoring in East Yorkshire when he was in the right place at the right time to head in from Morgan Gibbs-White’s cross in the 17th minute.
But it proved to be a John Egan second-half brace that was vital to the Blades all but sealing the three points just after the hour mark, with the Republic of Ireland international heading two of Conor Hourihane’s corners home to make it 3-0 in the 61st minute.
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There was a real sense of nervousness from the Tigers in the box before Egan’s second goal, grappling at Sheffield United shirts in an attempt to stop the South Yorkshire side who showed a visible improvement on previous routines this season.
Captain Sharp has since revealed it was boss Slavisa Jokanovic who emphasised the need to improve their set-pieces, saying to SUTV: “The gaffer’s been on to us about our set-pieces not being good enough.
“He’s given us all the detail and we have put them into action and performed them so he’ll be delighted with that I’m sure, because we’ve got two set-piece goals today, the delivery’s great and Eags (John Egan) has got on the end of them.”
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This latest result and their seven points from a possible nine since the international break has lifted the Blades out of the relegation zone, leaving them just four points off the play-off spots in 14th and setting themselves up well for the remainder of their games before the next international interval next month.
They face a Premier League opposition in Southampton tomorrow night to get some respite from the league before they return to Championship action on Saturday, looking to overcome a solid Derby County side who have already held the Blades’ promotion rivals West Bromwich Albion to a draw this month.
Although Slavisa Jokanovic proved to be vital in this set-piece improvement and their win because of that, you also have to commend Conor Hourihane and John Egan for their understanding and ability to step up and deliver the goods during a match situation.
Doing it in training is one thing, but executing it live in action is another and you could definitely say they have benefitted from the time they have spent together as teammates for the Republic of Ireland national team.
The acquisition of Hourihane not only gives them experience and promotion-winning pedigree, but also a different option at set-pieces and it could prove to be just as effective as a weapon than Darnell Furlong’s long-throws at West Brom.
The fact Sheffield United managed to score twice from corners in quick succession was impressive enough, but they were two completely different deliveries and it just goes to show they should have a few more tricks up their sleeves when they do get the opportunity to swing the ball in. They will be hoping Hourihane can be just as effective with free-kicks.
And they will also be hoping to utilise their improvement from set-pieces to defend them. The Blades have only kept one league clean sheet so far this season, so their ability to defend corners, long-throws and free-kicks will give them confidence moving forward.