James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Are ‘20-goal-a-season’ strikers really that important?

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Here we go again.

Nine months, forty-six matches and over 69 hours worth of action culminating in either absolute ecstasy or agony and pain.

The story of Sheffield United’s season will not contain any shades of grey.

Football, as even Nigel Clough acknowledges, is far from an exact science. No amount of planning ever truly eliminates the influence of Lady Luck.

But, as his players prepare to embark upon their latest push for promotion against Bristol City tomorrow, it is possible to identify some of the qualities successful teams are likely to possess.

And those ingredients which, contrary to popular opinion, seem to have little bearing over who will be celebrating a place in the Championship come May.

Goals win games so, analysing their returns in the opposition’s final third last term, United know this is an area where they must improve.

Since 2009/10, 10 different teams have claimed a top two finish. Seven of them have averaged two or more goals per outing with only Leeds (1.86), Doncaster Rovers (1.82) and AFC Bournemouth (1.8) falling below this threshold. United reported a figure of 1.04.

Wolverhampton Wanderers are the benchmark club during this period having hit the target more times (2.23) and accumulated more points (103) than any of their rivals.

Consistency was the key to their success and, crucially, they suffered back to back defeats only once en route to the League One title. Incidentally, Kenny Jackett’s squad also never went more than three fixtures without a win, something which happened on two occasions, and were beaten only five times.

Eighty per cent of those to climb straight out of the division, rather than being forced to plot a course through the play-offs, have endured 10 or fewer failures.

Again Rovers (12) and AFC (11) in 2012/13 are the exceptions to the rule.

Curiously the importance of a 20 goal a season striker seems to be overstated with only two top three sides boasting one of these since United’s relegation from the second tier.

But only twice has a top three placing been achieved by clubs where two or more players have not reached double figures.

Partnerships usually hold the key. Mind you, a prolific marksman is unlikely to do any harm. So Clough will be hoping Michael Higdon, Marc McNulty, Jose Baxter or Chris Porter can oblige.

*Twitter: @JamesShield1