Sheffield United: Does Chris Wilder really need to sign another centre-forward?

It was not intended as a slight. Neither was it an attempt to create a siege mentality.

Thursday, 4th October 2018, 3:13 pm
Updated Thursday, 4th October 2018, 3:18 pm
Billy Sharp (left) and David McGoldrick have excelled for Sheffield United this season

But when the subject of centre-forwards was raised, or Sheffield United's choice to be more specific, manager Chris Wilder found it impossible to resist highlighting how their performances consistently exceed pre-season expectations.

"You buy what you can and what is available at the time," he said. "That's exactly what we've done.

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"We work with what we've got to the best of our ability and all of them, despite some of the things I was told were being mentioned, are doing okay."

Okay is actually something of an understatement although, given the wafer-thin margins of Championship competition, Wilder's reluctance to get ahead of himself is entirely forgivable. Billy Sharp, after both of United's goals during yesterday's victory over Blackburn Rovers, enters this weekend's game against Hull City searching for his ninth of the season. David McGoldrick, meanwhile, has scored four since arriving on a free transfer and, as if to emphasise the importance of their partnership, provided the assist for his captain's first at Ewood Park.

Nevertheless, Wilder appears resigned to the fact he will face more calls to sign a 'proven' striker when the window reopens in January. United have answered a number of questions since his appointment as manager. But, after winning the League One title and challenging for the play-offs last term, many commentators continue to insist they remain one household name short of being genuine contenders. Despite, Wilder believes, a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

"Leon (Clarke) did great for us last year and will do again," he said, referring to United's leading marksman last term. "Everybody talked about Billy then. 

Sheffield United centre-forward Conor Washington

"People talk, everybody has a point to prove.There will be bumps on the road, there will be bumps during games, but we keep going and believing in what we are doing. 

"We keep the sound, the nonsense and the noise, out. We black it out and keep going on our way. This is still our second season in and it's important, at times, to remember that."

Despite being on target 19 times during the previous campaign, with four of those efforts coming against City, Clarke, together with new arrival Conor Washington, has yet to open his account since United returned to action in August. But Wilder is convinced, given the 33-year-old habit of scoring in bursts, that when the dam eventually bursts, a flood will follow.

The magnitude of Clarke's achievements last season should also be put into context. Although it is not a myth, the '20 goal a season' marksman is not as common as folk might think. Only two players, Matěj Vydra and Lewis Grabban, have reached that landmark in the past 12 months compared to four, including the on-loan Tammy Abraham, the year before.

Leon Clarke was Sheffield United's leading goalscorer last season

Sharp is on course to follow suit. Indeed, after missing from the spot during United's win at The Den, he could be on the cusp of double figures now.

"Not that boy, he doesn't shy away if he misses a penalty," Wilder said. "Bill has got a decent contact on it and, to be fair, the 'keeper has made a fabulous save. But he kept going. And, in my time, I think his general play is as a good as it's ever been during my time here. 

"He gets around the pitch but he's still getting in the six yard box. That's the energy and the work he's doing away from match day."

Sharp recovered his poise to hit the target against Millwall before claiming a brace against Rovers earlier this week. But McGoldrick, who is also expected to face Nigel Adkins' side, wrestled the headlines by also scoring twice. With United trailing 2-1 at the time, it was the second time in the space of seven days the former Republic of Ireland international had emerged as their match-winner, after turning home during the closing stages of last month's meeting with Preston North End.

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder

"He's got a lovely sense of timing hasn't he," Wilder said. "It's a nice knack to have.

"We've spoken before about big moments. We made the most of big moments recently and that's what we're looking for. But it's got to carry on."

"David's attitude and character is fantastic," Wilder added. "Good players play, they don't take much time to gel. We've got some talented boys but, if you don't have that attitude, it doesn't count for much."