Sheffield United: The amazing statistic that reveals why the Championship should really fear Chris Wilder's side if they manage to sign another proven striker

Once a week, the majority of Championship managers type the name of a little-known website into an internet search engine and scroll through its array of pie charts, data and graphs.

Tuesday, 11th December 2018, 4:20 pm
Updated Tuesday, 11th December 2018, 4:25 pm
Chris Wilder (centre) manager and Alan Knill (right)have guided Sheffield United to third in the table: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

All the usual stuff is there; average goals scored, average goals conceded and average points per game. But buried deep within the numbers, hidden behind the array of humdrum information anyone with a basic grasp of mathematics could compile, is a table they use to plan for the future, adjust tactics and even console themselves after a poor display or defeat.

From Sheffield United's perspective, their EPBP ranking, or 'expected position based on performance', also reveals it would be wise to invest in a proven, established centre-forward during next month's transfer window.

Billy Sharp is in impressive form once again: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

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Chris Wilder's side prepared for Saturday's visit to Reading ranked sixth in the Championship, five points behind second-placed Leeds who, despite finding themselves under the cosh for long periods, had triumphed 1-0 at Bramall Lane a week earlier.

But according to to EPBP, which analyses things such as possession, positional play and chances created, they should have been first. Claims that United are crying out for a high-calibre goalscorer to complement the likes of Billy Sharp, David McGoldrick and Leon Clarke, are clearly based on more than simply gut instinct.

Before the game in Berkshire, which finished 2-0 in his team's favour, Wilder had spent around half-an-hour with journalists at the Steelphalt Academy chronicling the season so far. Inevitably, after spending a couple of minutes politely dancing around the subject, the talk inevitably turned to recruitment and the names on his shopping list.

Although Wilder declined to reveal their identities, he did outline some of the qualities those being considered for moves to South Yorkshire must possess. The most important being an ability to win tight matches with one piece of magic. 

Chris Wilder's team have also captured the imagination of football statisticians: David Klein/Sportimage

"I always go back to Aston Villa last season, when their goalkeeper works over time and then Robert Snodgrass pops up with his left peg at the end," he said. "Tight games are usually settled by a mistake or a moment of brilliance. That was one of those occasions when it was a moment of brilliance."

Together with his assistant Alan Knill and talent-spotter Paul Mitchell, Wilder is unlikely to find it difficult to identify players with the necessary characteristics. The trouble is, they cost. Given the potential of this squad, where the statisticians clearly feel it is capable of finishing, the dispute between HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa'ad  bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Kevin McCabe could not have come at a worse time.

Although the two are understandably reluctant to commit significant sums until United's ownership issues are resolved, supporters and staff alike will hope they can find enough common ground to ensure Wilder has at least a competitive amount at his disposal over the coming weeks. The Scarborough-based businessman and his Saudi Arabian counterpart have, it must be acknowledged, sanctioned improved contracts for a number of the 51-year-old's most influential players.

Wilder must hope the EPBP proves as persuasive an argument as a Jack O'Connell tackle, Chris Basham header or John Fleck pass. There will be no shortage of Premier League clubs looking to loan United a young striker, despite Ben Woodburn's failure to earn a regular starting role.

But football is all about trying to grab opportunities when they come along and what this team needs is someone capable of hitting the ground running. Not a promising kid who is learning on the job. Fortunately, as Wilder acknowledged earlier this month, one thing McCabe and Prince Abdullah can agree on is United's desired direction of travel.

"We all want the same thing," he said. "People know where I want to get us to and the owners do as well."

If it takes more than Wilder's share of the David Brooks money, the Wales international was sold to AFC Bournemouth for £11,5m last summer, United should circumnavigate the politics and devise an investment plan which suits and protects both co-owners. Because, as the EPBP demonstrates, their time could be now.

Expected Positions Table (and actual positions):

1: Sheffield United (3)

2: Leeds United (2)

3: Norwich City (3)