Sheffield United: The man whose knowledge and experience could tip the race for the play-offs in The Blades' favour

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Billy Sharp’s finishing ability will become even more important over the coming weeks, Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom has predicted, as the margins for error towards the top of the Championship table become increasingly slim.

Only six points separate fifth placed Queens Park Rangers from Preston North End in 12th, suggesting Heckingbottom’s claim that the race for play-off qualification might be settled on the final day of the regular season.

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Sharp enters Tuesday’s game against Middlesbrough, who are sixth, searching for his seventh goal in 10 outings after opening the scoring during Friday’s draw with Nottingham Forest; Ryan Yates’ 95th minute equaliser denying United what would have been a significant victory over another promotion chasing side.

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With his team lying seventh, Heckingbottom told The Star: “Billy, everyone knows what he brings and what he does. The ability to do what he does, take chances and big chances, is going to be very important going forward of course.

“Teams are going to come here and try and stop us. We know that. They’re going to try and make it difficult for us as we’ve seen. So taking chances when they come along, having someone who can do that, I don’t think it needs any more explanation does it.”

United have remained in top six contention despite suffering a spate of injuries in recent weeks. George Baldock is the latest addition to a casualty list already containing names including Chris Basham, Jayden Bogle, Rhian Brewster and David McGoldrick, with Heckingbottom being warned the wing-back could be ruled-out for a significant period if he featured against Forest. Baldock had been receiving treatment for a knee problem beforehand.

Billy Sharp's goals are crucial for Sheffield United: Andrew Yates / SportimageBilly Sharp's goals are crucial for Sheffield United: Andrew Yates / Sportimage
Billy Sharp's goals are crucial for Sheffield United: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

Sharp has scored nearly twice as many league goals this term as United’s second leading scorer in the competition - the on loan Morgan Gibbs-White. Ensuring the 36-year-old remains available for selection appears crucial to their hopes of qualifying for the play-offs.

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"The injuries are becoming an issue but it’s something we’re just going to have to get on with,” Heckingbottom said. “Not all of them, but the workload we’ve bene under definitely has caused some of them I believe.”