Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl hailed Sheffield United last night despite the Blades’ Carabao Cup loss to the Saints on penalties, identifying their ability to limit the opposition’s chances as one of their key strengths as he spoke after the game.
Slavisa Jokanovic’s side took the lead at Bramall Lane in the eighth minute through Enda Stevens, before they fought back to make it 2-2 in the second half through Oli McBurnie, someone who has struggled to perform for the Blades over the last 12 months.
Neither side were able to break the deadlock from then on, and with 90 minutes played, only two missed penalties separated United and the Premier League side who went through to the next round of the competition.
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Despite this loss, they can take great heart from this close affair as they look to build on the seven points they have gained from a possible nine since the international break, winning against Peterborough United and Hull City and conceding a last-minute equaliser against Preston North End.
This mini-run of form is in sharp contrast to their early-season results, failing to win any of their opening five Championship games, scoring just once and claiming just two points from a possible fifteen.
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However, they now seem to be on the road to recovery after recruiting the likes of Morgan Gibbs-White and Conor Hourihane – and Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl has identified what sides will face when they come up against Slavisa Jokanovic’s men.
He said to the Sheffield Star: “We saw I think a very tough game.
“It was a typical cup tie and both teams had chances. We played against a team who were last season in the Premier League and we had some issues with some players, so I’m happy that we went through still. Both sides could have won in 90 minutes.
“[Diallo] had some good moments in the game, sometimes he takes too long to make the right decision but it was a tough game.
“They [United] are very aggressive and it was a typical cup game, there was no difference between the leagues. They were good on the ball and not easy to press and didn’t give a lot of chances away. So it’s good for the guys to get through to the next round.”
This game just shows how far Sheffield United have come in a matter of weeks. Slavisa Jokanovic clearly needed new players to come in and make a real impact not just on the pitch, but also off the pitch after being stuck in a rut.
Their opening five matches was just a continuation of their poor form from last season, so whilst it was obviously going to take the 53-year-old a while to settle in, their late additions and the chance to bed some of them in over the international break has proved to be crucial.
It looked as though their poor start may have been costly to their hopes of getting automatic promotion, but the table is still very tight in the early stages of this season and with the likes of Fulham losing on Saturday and West Brom failing to win any of their last three, it’s Sheffield United who have the momentum to go on and involve themselves in the promotion mix.
Under a manager like Slavisa Jokanovic, they have every chance of doing so and Hasenhuttl’s comments about their ability to limit the opposition’s chances should be a great source of encouragement for Blades fans.
They have only kept one league clean sheet so far this season, but if they can improve on this record and defend well, it could make all the difference at the end of the campaign.