Sheffield United’s first team squad is littered with players whose seasons did not get off to the most auspicious of starts.
Paul Coutts and Kieron Freeman began it on the transfer list before becoming integral parts of Chris Wilder’s team. Even Billy Sharp, who would now have to be crowbarred out the starting eleven, came under pressure after struggling in front of goal.
So when Wilder insists that Leon Clarke will eventually come good following an injury hit six months, it is worth taking note. The much-travelled centre-forward might be struggling to recapture the form which saw him score 18 times in only 37 appearances for Bury last term but, according to Wilder, is destined to prove his worth before the end of the campaign.
“It’s been stop-start for Leon and I think he will be the first to admit that,” the United manager said. “But he has played a part in the games, and if you speak to him, he would probably like to have played more of a part. That’s been hampered by a few injuries, he’s been unfortunate, and hasn’t really got going. There’s still under half the season to go and he has a massive part to play for us.”
Clarke has undoubtedly flattered to deceive since joining United during the close season, hitting the target three times in 19 outings for his 17th professional club. But the devil is in the detail and the 31-year-old, who is contracted to Bramall Lane until 2019, has started less than a third of the fixtures they have contest following Wilder’s appointment in May. With a niggling ankle problem - later discovered to be a fractured bone - inhibiting his ability to train, build partnerships and also performances, Clarke is aiming to improve his match fitness and sharpness during the second half of the campaign.
Wilder, aware he boasts an aerial presence other members of United’s attack lack, said: “You get ups and downs over the course of a season and, let’s be honest, I heard plenty of people saying Billy was not what he was at the beginning (of the season). I don’t hear many saying that now. Leon is a damn good player, as some of his finishes have shown, and he’s also proved his commitment to this football club by playing through injury.”
“There’s still lots of football to be played and all of the lads up top bring something a bit different to the table,” Wilder added. “That gives us options.”