Sheffield United 3, Bradford City 0: Leon Clarke at the double as champion Blades show no signs of slowing towards finishing line

Leon Clarke of Sheffield Utd scores the third goal against Bradford. Pic: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Leon Clarke of Sheffield Utd scores the third goal against Bradford. Pic: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
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There was respect, ruthless football and, at the end of it all, still no evidence whatsoever that the history makers are human after all.

Another scintillating performance, this time against play-off contenders Bradford City, swept Sheffield United to their 28th victory of the season and saw them break a near 130 year old club record for the number of triumphs in a single league campaign.

Third goalscorer Leon Clarke of Sheffield Utd celebrates with the provider Billy Sharp. Pic: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Third goalscorer Leon Clarke of Sheffield Utd celebrates with the provider Billy Sharp. Pic: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Fifteen points clear at the top of the table and runaway title winners, the facts and figures behind his side’s return to the Championship are, manager Chris Wilder conceded, phenomenal. But their source, he explained, is no secret.

“I wasn’t surprised by the attitude we showed,” he said. “There will have been a few people possibly expecting a bit of a sluggish performance because we’d have the flip flops on. But we were bang up for it and that’s the hallmark of this group.”

Two goals from Leon Clarke and another from Billy Sharp, his 27th since August, confirmed United’s status as the competition’s stand-out team. Sharp began the contest having failed to trouble the scoresheet since the beginning of March but knowing that, given his remarkable record against City, the chances were he would end that drought here.

True to form, after his fellow centre-forward had broken the deadlock, Sharp converted for the fifth time in four outings against Stuart McCall’s side. Having helped himself to a brace during October’s 3-3 draw at Valley Parade, there was a sense of inevitability when the poster boy for this United generation pounced after combining with John Fleck.

Sheffield Utd Champions of League One. Pic: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Sheffield Utd Champions of League One. Pic: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

“I just want us to win games,” Wilder said. “Whether it is 100 points or whatever, I just want us to win the next game and play well. Buzzwords for us are work ethic, enthusiasm and competitiveness.”

Although United’s dominance of the division allowed them to play with freedom, McCall and his squad entered this fixture knowing that play-off qualification, and potentially a top two finish, were both at stake. It was a scenario which should have equipped them with greater motivation and, in normal circumstances, added bite. But United’s achievements have been built on absolute commitment and, no matter what the situation, an insatiable appetite for success. City’s decision to provide a guard-of-honour before kick-off was a classy touch.

The trouble was, from the visitors’ perspective at least, so were the strikes from Clarke and Sharp which saw United seize control of the match before they had barely broken sweat.

Clarke might cut a languid figure as he lollops across the pitch. But, inside the penalty area, he is pure venom. The shot which saw him claim his seventh goal of the season and fourth in as many games was dispatched so effortlessly, it positively bristled with contempt.

Billy Sharp of Sheffield United celebrates scoring his team's second goal against Bradford. Pic: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Billy Sharp of Sheffield United celebrates scoring his team's second goal against Bradford. Pic: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Likewise when, after also writing his name on the scoresheet, Sharp unselfishly squared for Clarke to score again on the stroke of half-time. So much for the theory that the two are incapable of forging an effective partnership.

“These two lads are good footballers and work hard for themselves and the club,” Wilder said.

“People told me at the start of the season they couldn’t play together.

“I had to scratch my head and block that out.

“I think the world of my players. You don’t always see eye to eye and you have to jump on them at times. But Leon is a good character. I know what he is about.”

With Clarke’s involvement this term limited by an ankle problem, Sharp has been United’s regular ‘go-to’ man.

Carried shoulder high by supporters after captaining the club he has followed since childhood back into the Championship, the 31-year-old edged closer to another ‘Roy of the Rovers’ moment when he netted for the 199th time since turning professional midway through the opening period.

Wilder continued: “Billy is sat on whatever goals he is and goes clean through but squares the ball to Leon. Everyone expected Billy to score but he laid it on a plat and that summed it all up for me.”

Despite securing promotion nine days earlier, Wilder insisted United’s relentless approach to their work must not change.

With that in mind, he made three changes to the starting eleven which began the Easter weekend with an emphatic victory over Port Vale although James Hanson, like Jake Wright a former City player, was again absent due to injury.

A revitalised Clarke has stepped effortlessly into breach and broke the deadlock after only 14 minutes. When Sharp doubled United’s lead six minutes later, McCall scratched his head on the touchline as he searched for a way to stem the tide. It should have come in the shape of an excellent chance, created by the dangerous Mark Marshall, but Charlie Wyke headed wide.

Two minutes before the break, Clarke punished his fellow centre-forward’s profligacy by applying the finishing touches to an excellent move instigated by Mark Duffy and embellished by Sharp.

“Because of the spirit here,” Wilder said. “Perhaps not enough is made of the football we play. Some of the stuff there, particularly in the first half, was superb I thought.”

Sheffield United: Moore, O’Connell, Wright, Basham, Lafferty, Freeman, Coutts, Fleck, Duffy (Carruthers 66), Sharp, Clarke. Not used: Long, McNulty, Done, Ebanks-Landell, O’Shea, Chapman.

Bradford City: Doyle, Meredith, Law, Vincelot, Marshall, Dieng (Jones 23), Wyke, Cullen, Knight-Percival, McArdle, McMahon. Not used: Darby, Toner, Clarke, Hiwula, Sattelmaier, Devine.

Referee: Paul Tierney (Lancashire).

Attendance: 26,838.