Sheffield United manager Slavisa Jokanovic has admitted promotion back to the Premier League may not be a possibility this season unless his fringe players up top force their way into contention and give him select dilemmas for each game, speaking to The Star.
The 53-year-old was asked specifically about the competition in the forward department, with Billy Sharp starting every one of the Blades’ six league matches since the previous international break and firmly establishing himself as their first-choice striker once again.
Considering Jokanovic’s switch to playing one up top and the amount of competition there is in this department, this is an impressive achievement from the 35-year-old who was desperate to recover from a thigh operation and get back to full fitness in pre-season.
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He won his first start of the season in the second league game of the campaign against Swansea City, after seeing Lys Mousset come off in the opening fixture against Birmingham City with a hamstring injury, something that ruled him out of action until the South Yorkshire side’s previous game against AFC Bournemouth at the start of the month.
Regardless of this setback for Mousset, Sharp has still fought off competition from the likes of Oli McBurnie, Rhian Brewster and David McGoldrick to retain his status as one of the first names on the teamsheet, registering an impressive seven goal contributions in 11 second-tier games this season.
Despite the 35-year-old’s reliability, being a consistent goalscorer in the EFL throughout his career at different clubs, Slavisa Jokanovic has admitted the likes of McBurnie and Brewster will need to step up to the plate if they want to achieve their goal of promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
He told the Sheffield Star: “At the moment it is Billy (who starts).
“But we have Oli (McBurnie), we have Rhian (Brewster) and we have others here, other very good players too.
“Billy is in right now. But the rest, they have to make sure they are ready if we decide to make a change or need to make a change.
“That is what you must do – always show that you should be playing when you train and when you come on. We do not want it (picking a side) to be easy. It isn’t.
“And if we are to achieve what we are aiming for, then it can never be that way. It can not happen.”
On paper, they have one of the best forward departments in the Championship with the quality and depth they have in this position.
Brewster has a huge amount of promise at 21 years old and should have a bright future in the game as an England youth international, but he has struggled for goals since his £23.5m move from Liverpool and needs the confidence to start hitting the back of the net.
Although McBurnie is slightly older, he also enjoyed great success at Swansea City in the Championship like Brewster did and should be scoring goals for fun at this level. But he is also in need of confidence after struggling like his 21-year-old teammate last term and deserves a bit more time to find his feet under Slavisa Jokanovic.
Perhaps the return of Mousset can help to reignite their forward area after seemingly impressing Jokanovic in pre-season, but there certainly needs to be an alteration made somewhere to allow some of these players to perform at their optimum level again.
You would expect their struggles relate to a potential mental block after last season, because they all have the ability to chip in and contribute vital goals.
In the end, the form of the likes of McBurnie and Brewster could depend on whether the Blades are able to reach the top six or not after a poor start to the campaign, so they desperately need to step up to the plate and revive their careers at Bramall Lane.