Goals, not graft or guile, will ultimately decide which players secure a place in Sheffield United’s attack, Alan Knill has confirmed.
The League One club boasts an embarrassment of riches at the top end of the pitch with Billy Sharp, Leon Clarke, Matt Done and Caolan Lavery all vying for starting roles against Swindon Town this weekend.
United, who will enter the match boasting the division’s second best forward line, have hit the target 32 times in their last 12 outings and Knill, their assistant manager, said: “We’ve got four lads up there. Any two of the four can play. The bottom line is that their job is to score. Because we are a team that creates chances, if they come in and score then, chances are, they’ll stay in.”
Those words go someway towards explaining why Done, having failed to score in his last nine league appearances, was omitted from the starting elevens which faced Charlton Athletic and Walsall earlier this month. The former Rochdale centre-forward emerged as United’s preferred strike-pairing at the start of the season before Clarke’s return to fitness saw him dropped to the bench.
Nonetheless, Wilder’s selection picks for the visit of Swindon are more complex than Knill’s comments first suggest. As Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic once admitted: “You can have a striker who scores 50 goals in one season but if you win nothing it means nothing.”
United, third in the table, must decide whether Done warrants a place in the side on work-rate alone or if Clarke and Lavery, who started yesterday’s FA Cup tie at Bolton Wanderers, represent more profitable options.
“Obviously Billy and Doney have played most of the games because Clarkey and Caolan have been injured,” Knill said. “But now we’ve got a choice. Doney has got other attributes than just being in the box. He does a lot of running. Doney hadn’t scored and so you think ‘okay, he might need a rest.’ Is he able to get into the same positions?”
Despite being awarded the captaincy following Wilder’s appointment seven months ago, Sharp is also under pressure to maintain the performance levels which have seen him score 12 times in the competition so far this term.
“Billy understands that, behind him, there’s quality,” Knill said. “So he has to stay on his game. But he’s been a marked man all the way through his career.”