Sheffield United: Is this man the answer to Blades' puzzle up front? - Alan Biggs' Column

He’s been the talk of the town whether he‘s started or not - so here’s this column’s verdict on Oli McBurnie.

By Alan Biggs
Wednesday, 23rd February 2022, 11:34 am

For a striker, missing chances is part of the package. McBurnie can yet deliver for a Sheffield United team now firing on most cylinders.

Just seven goals in 78 league appearances for the Blades suggests he won’t. But 39 previous career goals at almost one every two games - and being just 25 years of age - says he will.

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Paul Heckingbottom manager of Sheffield Utd instructs Oli McBurnie of Sheffield Utd during the match against Swansea. Simon Bellis / Sportimage

That conflict was highlighted in last week’s goalless draw with Hull, for instance, ahead of the 4-0 win against Swansea when McBurnie was back as a substitute.

Views of the former Swansea forward, prolific there and on loan with Barnsley, were jaundiced by Billy Sharp’s surprise omission for a breather on the bench.

I’d defend both decisions, even if Billy - who wants to play every minute of every game - won’t have liked it much, predictably responding with a goal from the start last Saturday.

The fact is United created more than enough chances to have beaten Hull on a normal night - all before Sharp came on and didn’t get a sniff.

Ok, so McBurnie missed two or three of the best and final judgment on his £20m signing two-and-a-half years ago will always rest on his goal tally.

However, (writing ahead of Blackburn in midweek) all the signs are there that if he gets an injury-free run the figures will start to tip in his favour.

One goal in the Hull game would have completely altered perceptions of his performance.

He dominated in the air, constantly strove to get on the end of (all too few) crosses and was a physical handful throughout.

Not pretty, unglamorous but a sign of effectiveness for the team just needing to be rounded off in front of goal.

Keep up that effort and that standard and it will happen. No guarantees, of course, because you only have to look at the puzzling eclipse of that erstwhile phenomenal goalscorer Jordan Rhodes to realise that past records don’t count.

However, there is reason to think that, at a younger age and being of a type not solely reliant on goals to contribute, McBurnie has enough in his locker to change the story.

Certainly he adds variety to attacking options. Could he get a partnership with Sharp going at last?

It’s one of so many permutation posers - even without Rhian Brewster, David McGoldrick and Jayden Bogle - as Paul Heckingbottom lines up his armoury for the run-in.