It speaks volumes about the number of chances Sheffield United have created this season that, despite outscoring the likes of Bayern Munich, Juventus and Real Madrid, Chris Wilder recently criticised their returns in front of goal.
Billy Sharp, who enters tomorrow’s game against Charlton Athletic searching for his 27th since August, is clearly beyond reproach. But the job of partnering League One’s leading scorer remains up-for-grabs.
James Hanson, signed from Yorkshire rivals Bradford City during the January transfer window, appears Wilder’s preferred option given the physical dynamic he brings to their attack. Nevertheless, Caolan Lavery is staking a case for more regular game time after producing a series of combative performances in recent weeks.
“It’s hard to moan and complain when you’re not in the team because, when you look at the people ahead of you, you think ‘they’re doing brilliant,’” he said. “So the important thing is to work hard and make sure you’re ready when an opportunity does come along. It’s nice to start and it’s nice to be involved in a team that makes so many chances but, at the end of the day, it’s the end result and the team that counts.”
Lavery claimed United’s 68th goal of the campaign and his fourth of the season when he set United on course for a 4-2 victory over Swindon Town in midweek. Crucially the Canadian born centre-forward, who opened his account for the club against the same opposition in December, also claimed an assist before being substituted, as a precautionary measure, soon after the break.
“I don’t think I’ve actually played Swindon before this season,” Lavery admitted. “But there’s obviously something about them I like. It’s good to start and get myself on the scoresheet. But there’s also a good mentality among the group and, if I come on, put a shift in and help the lads that way then I’m also happy too.”
“We made it difficult for ourselves at times but it’s the end result that matters. We trust in everyone’s abilities and we came out and showed why. There’s a strong mentality among the team.”
Although Hanson is expected to start against Karl Robinson’s side, who drew with United at The Valley earlier this term, Wilder will finalise his selections after analysing the visitors’ strengths and weaknesses. Lavery got the nod at Swindon when the 49-year-old, whose team is eight points clear at the top of the table, decided the opposition could cope with power but were vulnerable to pace. Marc McNulty and Matt Done, both unused substitutes in Wiltshire, complete United’s options although Leon Clarke is making progress in his recovery from injury.
“I try to get in behind and bring a different type of threat to the one Hans offers,” Lavery said. “We’ve all got goals, individually and collectively, but we’re also keeping our feet on the ground and getting good at getting wins. It’s a cliché but we are only looking at the next game because, if you start thinking two or three ahead, you can get complacent and at this stage that can be dangerous.”