Sheffield United drew 2-2 with Preston North End last night as their defensive struggles continued to haunt them this season.
The Blades seem to have solved their goal scoring issues, with eight scored in the last two games. But it’s also another four conceded, taking the tally to 11 for the campaign. In fact, only Reading and Peterborough have conceded more, with Blackpool level with 11.
Last night, Jack Robinson bore the brunt of the criticism from the United fans. After making a glaring error against Peterborough, Robinson was caught out again as North End scored in injury time to rescue a point.
Of course, Ben Davies should return to the fold soon. But alongside Davies on that left side, a return to the starting XI for Enda Stevens would also be welcome.
Rhys Norrington-Davies has done ok in flashes this term. But in a defence conceding consistently, it’s imperative United get their most experienced and well versed defensive players in the back four ASAP.
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Back to what we know
In fairness to Slavisa Jokanovic and the backline in general, it has been a chop and change start to the campaign. Last night’s up and down debut for Robin Olsen represented the fourth different goalkeeper this term already.
Hopefully, Olsen can settle in as number one and gradually build his confidence behind John Egan and Davies. On the right, George Baldock will be first-choice, despite Jayden Bogle’s presence.
But it’s down that left-hand side United struggle. And for all Norrington-Davies shows going forward, at the moment, he just doesn’t seem up to the task defensively.
He was caught out last night a few times. Whether it was by a ball in behind him, or a runner simply getting beyond him, the Welshman showed there are improvements to be made in his game.
Putting Stevens back in will give United more of a sense of familiarity. With Baldock, Egan, and Enda back in the picture, United would have three of the back five which did so well for so long under Chris Wilder. Davies and Olsen, meanwhile, have enough class and experience to fill the other slots.
Strength at both ends
At times last season, Enda Stevens was something of a scapegoat for some United fans. He wasn’t alone, obviously. In a frustrating campaign, Blades supporters were naturally pointing the finger where they could.
But it’s easy to forget how good Enda Stevens has been for United. In the first PL season where we finished 9th, he scored twice, and layed on another four. He also completed 90 minutes 36 times out of 38 that year, demonstrating his remarkable consistency.
Jokanovic has confirmed Stevens should be back with the group this week along with Lys Mousset. That can only be a positive for this Sheffield United side at the moment.
Familiarity and consistency is key for any defensive line. The Blades boss looks to have settled on a four at the back. So, while Norrington-Davies has not done too much wrong, if Stevens is fit, then he comes back into the team.
From there, United can look to build and get back to the days of being determined to keep the ball out of the net. Only then, can we truly start to think the Blades can mount a promotion push.