Sheffield United midfielder John Fleck has admitted the Blades are still conceding too many goals amid their quest to keep more clean sheets, speaking in a pre-match press conference to The Star.
The Blades claimed a much-needed 3-2 victory at Oakwell against Barnsley on Sunday afternoon, although the Tykes’ late fightback took the gloss off what was previously a commanding performance from Slavisa Jokanovic’s men.
They were 3-0 up until the 78th minute, when Devante Cole pulled one back. And Aaron Leya Iseka struck just four minutes later to set up a grandstand finish in the South Yorkshire derby, although the Championship strugglers failed to complete what would have been a remarkable comeback.
Quiz: Did these 25 Sheffield United transfers actually happen?
For United, their leakiness at the back has been a problem throughout the 2021/22 campaign, even after recovering from their poor early-season form.
Keeping a clean sheet in just three of their 14 league games, this record may not be good enough to secure back to the Premier League at the first time of asking – a target they were expected to achieve before the season started after appointing a man of Jokanovic’s quality in May.
However, Blades midfielder Fleck has admitted he and his teammates are still adapting to the Serbian’s style after spending previous years under predecessor Chris Wilder, whilst emphasising the need to tighten up at the back.
He said to the Sheffield Star this afternoon: “It’s a little bit different for everyone in the team, not just me.
“We’re still adapting just now and trying to improve, as you see in some games – even at the weekend when we were 3-0 up and couldn’t see it out as well as we should have. Hopefully we’re on the right lines.
“It’s a new structure to what we all worked for under Chris, when you’re drilled into something for so long it can be hard to go into a different system straightaway and we’re learning on the job.
“We’re conceding too many goals of late, as a team. If you ask the manager the first thing he wants to do is keep a clean sheet.
“If you’re winning 4-2 every game then fair enough but as a group we want to try and keep more clean sheets.”
Staying solid at the back is often the key to promotion, so it’s no surprise to see one of their key players call for more clean sheets.
They may have a formidable strike force with the likes of Billy Sharp, Lys Mousset, Oli McBurnie and Lys Mousset at Jokanovic’s disposal – but they can’t be relied upon to turn up every game and their struggles in the Premier League last season will have taught them that already.
Their late scare against Barnsley may be seen as a negative by many – but it didn’t prove to be costly in the end and that could potentially end up being a real learning curve for the South Yorkshire side who will now be focused on taking steps to ensure something like that doesn’t happen again.
They have the talent and expertise in defence with Enda Stevens, George Baldock, John Egan and Chris Basham all being part of the 2018/19 promotion-winning side, with the likes of Jayden Bogle and Rhys Norrington-Davies available as more youthful options and Ben Davies as a useful addition at the back.
But more time to adapt to Jokanovic’s system and the switch from a back five to a four will be needed in order to minimise their ‘goals against’ tally – and another central defender in January in the absence of Jack O’Connell wouldn’t do any harm either.