Match Analysis: Billy Sharp reveals his biggest regret after equalling an English record against Blackburn Rovers

It was revealing, after becoming the joint-highest scoring Englishman this century, to hear Billy Sharp talk about personal regrets.

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 30th December 2018, 1:10 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th January 2019, 2:31 am
Billy Sharp has only one English goalscoring equal  this century following his brace against Blackburn Rovers: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Billy Sharp has only one English goalscoring equal this century following his brace against Blackburn Rovers: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Yes, he admitted, scoring 219 league goals since the year 2000 is a pretty remarkable achievement. But so deep is his attachment to Bramall Lane, so strong his love for his boyhood club, the fact only 87 of those have come for Sheffield United troubles the centre-forward.

"If I could have played here all my career then I would have done," Sharp admitted, having drawn level with Rickie Lambert in the footballing record books. "I'd have loved to have done that. I had to go away a couple of times to benefit myself but I feel as if I've come back at exactly the right time. I feel as fit and as strong as ever. I feel I can keep going for sometime yet."

That final statement will send a shiver through the spine of Blackburn Rovers who, like Chris Wilder's side, finished the match with 10 men after Richie Smallwood joined Chris Basham in the dressing rooms following a challenge on United's captain. A quarter of Sharp's strikes in all competitions this term have come against the visitors following his brace at Ewood Park two months earlier.

Repeating that feat when Tony Mowbray's squad crossed the Pennines for the final match of 2018 saw the 32-year-old draw level with Rickie Lambert, his former Southampton team mate, in the footballing record books.

"Rickie was a goal machine wasn't he," Sharp continued. "I've equalled what he did so hopefully he doesn't come out of retirement. Thankfully Rickie's probably enjoyed one too many beers now to let him do that.

"Joking aside, although it's great for me personally, really I just want something for Sheffield United. I need to make sure I go and and score even more goals. I need to keep doing my job for my team."

United's latest meeting with Rovers was also significant for a number of other reasons. Defender Jack O'Connell made his 100th consecutive league start and the result, against dogged and well-organised visitors, proved they are beginning to master the art of wearing down opponents as well as overwhelming them.

"We said at half time that we'd not been at our best so it was important to stay patient," Sharp explained. "To be honest, we've been saying for a few weeks now that we needed to grind one out as we can't play well all the time.

"People are coming here and looking to make it difficult for us so it's going to be impossible just to steamroller our way through. When our spell came, we made sure we took advantage. That's always important to do."

United's moment arrived when Smallwood, seemingly unaware Anthony Taylor was having a day to forget, incurred the referee's wrath by lunging into Sharp during the closing stages of the contest. It was one of the few decisions the official got right all afternoon and, after Basham had received the second of two harsh yellow cards, redressed the numerical imbalance.

Seconds later, after Rovers had seen a penalty appeal waved away at one end of the pitch, Sharp scored the first of a quick-fire double at the other before David McGoldrick, chesting home John Fleck's cross, put United, still fourth in the table, beyond reach.

"The way we play, everyone enjoys it," Sharp said. "I love playing for the club and I love the way we're going about it, with two up top. I've got a great partnership going with Didzy (McGoldrick). He's getting goals at the moment and I am as well."

Although the scoreline suggests a routine victory for United, it was actually anything but. Making seven changes to their starting eleven, only one of which was enforced, Rovers frustrated the hosts for long periods and, given Charlie Mulgrew's prowess at set-pieces, posed a threat from deadball situations. It was at one of those, after being cautioned for an early tackle on Harrison Reed, when Basham walked after being adjudged to have handled one of the Scot's Howitzers while stood in the wall. Dean Henderson, who had earlier seen a Mulgrew attempt rebound off a post, denied Derrick Williams as Rovers pressed only for Smallwood's recklessness to stop them in their tracks.

"Bash's first yellow was for doing what he does," Sharp said. "To get two yellows for what he did, that's harsh.

"Blackburn will say the same thing. He caught me high but it wasn't hard or with a great deal of force. That was lucky for me, though."

Earlier, after Mulgrew had seen a shot deflected behind for a corner from which Darragh Lenihan went close, Enda Stevens had also struck the woodwork for United after combining well with Mark Duffy and Fleck. But Wilder's team prevailed thanks to their sheer persistence and, as Mowbray later acknowledged, psychological fortitude. Substitute Conor Washington nearly stretched their advantage during an impressive late cameo.

"The fans are seeing 18 players work hard for the club," Sharp said. "The players behind the 18 are working hard too. That's what you need. That's what it's all about."

Sheffield United: Henderson, Basham, Egan, O'Connell, Stevens, Baldock, Norwood, Fleck, Duffy (Coutts 55), Sharp (Washington 87), McGoldrick (Clarke 87). Not used: Moore, Stearman, Johnson, Cranie.

Blackburn Rovers: Raya, Williams, Reed, Smallwood, Rothwell, Mulgrew, Lenihan, Travis, Bennett, Palmer (Armstrong 69), Brereton (Dack 69). Not used: Leutwilder, Rodwell, Graham, Downing, Evans.

Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire).

Attendance: 27,384