While Slavisa Jokanovic has seen his Sheffield United side drastically improve their Championship form in recent weeks, with the Blades remaining undefeated in their last five league fixtures, the Serbian manager faces what is sure to be a stern challenge on Tuesday evening, with a trip to Middlesbrough on the cards for the Blades.
Indeed, while Neil Warnock’s side have seen their form falter somewhat in recent weeks, having lost their last two Championship fixtures against Blackpool and Reading respectively, Boro have performed well against the better-placed clubs in the league so far this season, drawing 1-1 with fourth-placed Fulham at Craven Cottage, defeating eighth-placed Bristol City 2-1 and drawing 1-1 with sixth-placed Blackburn Rovers.
As such, Jokanovic must ensure that he gets his team selection spot on at Riverside if he is to maintain his side’s impressive run of recent results in the second tier.
While central midfielder Conor Hourihane has seen his game time somewhat limited since joining the Blades on a season-long loan deal back in August, with the 30-year-old starting just once in the Championship, the fixture against Middlesbrough could well be the perfect time to unleash the Republic of Ireland international.
Indeed, with Sander Berge appearing to be a doubt for Tuesday’s fixture, with Jokanovic claiming that he does not want to rush the midfielder back from injury, there may be a position in the middle of the park that needs filling for Sheffield United.
And, when taking into account Hourihane’s level of performance in his only Championship start for the club thus far, the man Steve Cooper dubbed a “focused” player would appear to be a fantastic option for the 53-year-old United manager.
Indeed, in the Blades 3-1 win over Hull City earlier this month, the £3.15m-rated man turned in an excellent display, registering two assists, making two key passes and creating one big chance over his 65 minutes on the pitch, in addition to making three clearances, one tackle and winning one duel.
As such, it would certainly seem a wise move by Jokanovic to once again place his trust in the Aston Villa loanee for the trip to Middlesbrough, as Hourihane has already demonstrated he can be a game-changer for the Blades.