As soon as Billy Sharp, Mark Duffy and Kieron Freeman are restored to the team, we win.
Indeed, these three were the ones involved in the first goal. Of course it’s never as simple as that, but it has been apparent over the last couple of seasons that United play best when Duffy and Sharp are on form.
Nevertheless, Chris Wilder clearly has doubts about Sharp and Duffy’s ability to last 90 minutes. They are always the ones to be substituted after 65 minutes, whereas others never get taken off, however they are playing.
This is not intended as a criticism of Wilder, who knows his players far better than I do, but it seems that several players have been brought in apparently to replace – or at least compete with – Sharp and Duffy, yet those have gone and this pair are still here.
Ben Woodburn and Oliver Norwood are the latest to try. Woodburn has youth and plenty of Premier League hype, and you can see immediately that he has a touch of class, such as the pass with the outside of his right foot as soon as he came on against Swansea. However, finding his best position might prove as troublesome as it was with David Brooks. Is he a striker or is he a No.10?
I first came across Norwood when he signed for Huddersfield after they beat us in the 2012 play-off final, but that’s not to say I’ve followed his career closely, though I do remember him scoring a 96th minute penalty winner for Fulham at Middlesbrough last season, which shows he has a bit of bottle.
Wikipedia says he is “known for his passing and ability to dictate tempo. He is renowned as a free-kick and set-piece specialist and for scoring goals from long range.” A set-piece specialist is something we haven’t had in all Wilder’s time here (I thought Ricky Holmes might be that man, but it appears not), whilst a midfielder who shoots from long range will come as something as a surprise in a team that likes to follow the Arsenal method of trying to walk the ball into the net.
But whatever happens in the next few months, I’d still wager we win more games with Duffy and Sharp in the team than without.
I’ll finish with a bit of an anecdote. I’m just watching a programme on BBC4 about the history of Florence (the Italian city, not the Magic Roundabout character or her with the Machine), and presenter Alexander Armstrong is in the Botticelli room in the Uffizi Gallery.
It was in this very room whilst contemplating the great Italian artist’s Primavera and the Birth of Venus that I learned via a text from Dave ‘Mini’ Cooper that United had won 3-2 at Watford in the 2005/06 promotion season after being 2-0 down.
Thus, in my mind Phil Jagielka and Paul Ifill will forever be linked with Early Renaissance Florentine art. It’s strange how football does things like this.