Sheffield United: Who is the best strike-partner for Billy Sharp?

Blades captain Billy Sharp celebrates (Photo: Sportsimage)
Blades captain Billy Sharp celebrates (Photo: Sportsimage)
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It might not have gripped the nation quite as tightly as the Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard dilemma or provoked quite the same levels of ferocious debate.

But identifying Sheffield United’s best attacking combination is, following the return to fitness of Caolan Lavery and Leon Clarke, one of the issues manager Chris Wilder will be seeking to address as his team bids to consolidate its automatic promotion credentials.

Wilder, who last night described claims Billy Sharp and Clarke are unsuited as absolute “garbage”, has tried numerous combinations during the first five months of the League One campaign. Matt Done enters today’s game against Northampton Town as the United captain’s preferred partner although, despite his prodigious work ethic, the former Rochdale striker’s lack of goals are cause for concern.

Sharp, though, clearly enjoys playing alongside Done and revels in the space his colleague can create. Lavery could potentially emerge as an alternative option and brings the same industry. But, with 10 of Sharp’s 16 goals so far this term coming when Done is on the pitch, Wilder has been reluctant to break-up their double-act.

The remaining six have come when Clarke, a summer signing from Bury, has also been involved. But, unlike Done, his partnership with Sharp is still at the embryonic stage. The two men have played only 705 minutes of football together since August, or 26.7 per cent of United’s total game time. Since Clarke’s recovery from injury in November, this figure has risen to 30.8. With three of Sharp’s last four efforts coming when Clarke has either started or come on as a substitute, the statistics would suggest they are beginning to dovetail more effectively.

Which grants Wilder, whose side are second in the League One table, the luxury of tailoring his selections on a match by match basis.

Leon Clarke is hoping to secure a regular starting role. Pic Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Leon Clarke is hoping to secure a regular starting role. Pic Simon Bellis/Sportimage