James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Blades play the numbers game

David Weir accepts Sheffield United must sharpen-up in front of goal � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
David Weir accepts Sheffield United must sharpen-up in front of goal � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
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There are lies, damn lies and statistics, writes James Shield. But, in this instance, the numbers speak a loud and uncomfortable truth.

Sheffield United have played four games since returning to competitive action three weeks ago. And they are still waiting for a centre-forward to score.

David Weir, who took charge at Bramall Lane in June, has frequently spoken about the need to coax more out of his strike-force. True to form the subject was raised again when the region’s media descended upon the Redtooth Academy for another pre-match briefing earlier this week.

Only a fool would claim it is a situation which does not need to be addressed if United are to realise their potential. Possession, of which they enjoy plenty, might be nine tenths of the law. But worth nothing unless it’s translated into goals.

That said, the problem is nowhere near as acute as some critics would have you believe. Context and perspective have gone the same way as patience in modern sporting debate.

Weir and his colleagues have embarked upon an ambitious project which is still effectively less than seven hours old.

The stats also suggest the solution is more sophisticated than folk trotting-out hackneyed arguments about the merits of 4-5-1 and 4-4-2 would have you believe.

United head to Bradford City tomorrow having registered a total of 62 shots in 383 minutes of football with 21 being on target. That’s an average of 15.5 and 5.25 per game. At the same stage last season they had recorded figures of 13.75 and exactly seven.

So, it is possible to surmise, United are now more adept at creating chances. But the quality of those opportunities is slightly lower. Factoring in, of course, that the Capital One Cup tie against Burton Albion 12 months ago went to extra-time and penalties.

Incidentally, United are now affording opponents fewer openings of their own with rivals teams enjoying an average of 6.75 attempts per game and three on target compared to 10.5 and 3.75 at the same point of the previous campaign.

So although Weir will look to bolster his attacking options before the end of the transfer window, a midfield playmaker capable of replacing Kevin McDonald, improving the supply-lines to Lyle Taylor and bringing rhythm to United’s attack should be priority number one.

*Twitter: @JamesShield1