Match Analysis: How a frustrating draw at Ipswich Town laid bare Sheffield United's strengths, weaknesses and revealed where they must improve during the transfer window
Billy Sharp must find it exasperating, after scoring 13 times in only 22 outings, to be constantly quizzed on Sheffield United's need for more firepower.
But given how this contest unfolded, because they were forced to settle for a draw despite controlling long periods, the visitors' captain faced a familiar line of questioning when he faced the media afterwards.
"Everyone always wants more don't they," he said. "That's the way it is, there's nothing wrong with that. I'll just focus on my job, which is trying to help the lads and this club win football matches. If someone comes in who helps us get to the Premier League then great, we'll all be happy, because that's where we want to be."
Sharp's goals, including the one which cancelled-out Ellis Harrison's opener for Ipswich Town, have helped United become part of the promotion conversation in a division containing two former European champions and numerous financial powerhouses.Â
Yet, as the post-game debate at Portman Road demonstrates, the 32-year-old seldom receives the credit his talents deserve. Not for the first time this season, United failed to translate territory and possession into an overwhelming advantage before Harrison fired Paul Lambert's side into an unlikely lead. Chris Wilder, the Scot's managerial counterpart, will regard that as further evidence they must sign another centre-forward during next month's transfer window or risk falling out of play-off contention.Â
But given his track record of success, not to mention the fact so many of United's rivals would happily acquire his services, Sharp should be viewed as part of the solution rather than the problem. Sometimes, the answer to a seemingly intractable puzzle is right under your nose.
"All of the boys are disappointed in there at the moment," he continued, "Because we know we've played well and not won the game. At the halfway stage of the season, we're sixth in the table and in a good position with 38 points. But we should have two more more because, there's no doubt about it, we did enough to win here."
Unless United address their inability to exploit the sheer volume of chances they create, the second half of the campaign threatens to become an all too familiar story of what might have been. Despite spending much of afternoon camped on the edge of Dean Gerken's area, it was Ipswich, still languishing at the foot of the table, who took the lead when Harrison's long-range effort deflected off John Egan and flew into the back of Dean Henderson's net. Sharp was guilty of spurning an excellent opportunity when Mark Duffy's centre picked him out inside the box. But a lack of cutting edge meant Gerken, who should have spent the opening 45 minutes being bombarded with shots, could instead watch his defenders thwart United's attacks and, until they found a way through immediately after the interval, grow in confidence.
"In a couple of days time, we might look back on this and think it wasn't too bad a result," Sharp, praising the spirit of Lambert's men, said. "Overall, we played well and we didn't lose. We could have felt sorry for ourselves but we didn't and all the talk during the break was really positive and upbeat. The gaffer wants us to keep believing in ourselves and we'll do that. In fact, he wants us to show even more belief because we've established a way of playing that's effective and one that we enjoy."
Although another striker would undoubtedly be of benefit, perhaps the most revealing moment of Saturday's fixture, from United's perspective at least, came at the beginning of the game when they spent nearly two minutes working the ball across Ipswich's penalty box but failed to muster a shot. Sharp and David McGoldrick, playing against his former employers for the first time since being released during the close season, made a series of runs as they searched for space only for the ball, as Lambert paced furiously about the technical area, to be repelled or passed square.Â
United's assistant manager Alan Knill, performing the post-match media duties in Wilder's absence, rejected the notion they are becoming a shade too elaborate.
"Who is making that argument? I think you'll find, statistically speaking, that we cross it as much as anyone. More, even, perhaps."
But there were occasions when being a little more direct would have denied Ipswich's defence, marshalled by the dogged Matthew Pennington, the time to organise themselves.
Ipswich, to their credit, fought like tigers to keep United at bay following Sharp's equaliser with Pennington producing an excellent tackle to prevent George Baldock testing Gerken before Egan shot just over the crossbar during the closing stages.
"When you are down at the bottom, battling for survival, you're going to be ready to fight," Knill said. "And we fought too. Every single match brings its own challenges, especially when the table has taken shape."
Sharp, who stooped to head home from close-range when Oliver Norwood's perfectly flighted cross beat Pennington and Luke Chambers, also suspected his strike had laid the platform for what would have been a deserved victory.
"I thought there was only going to be one winner when that went in," he said. "Unfortunately for us, it wasn't to be."