Sheffield United: Could Billy Sharp be on the brink?

It is a relationship built on respect rather than friendship. They rarely socialise together away from football and, according one half of Bramall Lane's highest profile double act, often don't see eye to eye.

Thursday, 10th October 2019, 21:42 pm
Chris Wilder: Simon Bellis/Sportimage via PA Images

But even though he disagrees with his captain about aspects of Sheffield United's team selection and what constitutes an acceptable tackling technique, Chris Wilder has no doubts whatsoever about Billy Sharp's suitability to wear the armband. Or his commitment to the football club.

"Billy wants the best for himself and there's nothing wrong with that," Wilder said. "Every professional is the same. But he also wants the best for Sheffield United and in his mind that comes first. That's a captain's attitude, one hundred per cent."

Wilder was speaking after praising Sharp's contribution behind the scenes last month as, after being sent-off during United's game against Southampton, he served a three match ban. Having completed his suspension following their meeting with Liverpool, the centre-forward returned to action at Watford last weekend.

"Billy and I still have a bit of a joke about whether or not he deserved to go not," Wilder admitted, remembering Sharp's challenge on Stuart Armstrong which referee Lee Mason deemed worthy of a red card. "He still thinks not and there were quite a few ex-players who work as pundits now - all of them strikers mind - who agreed with him at the time."

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"I just thought you're not going to get away with that now," the United manager added. "Not in this day and age.

"Ten years ago, probably not that even, you probably wouldn't even have got a yellow. 'The first hit is a free hit,' and all of that. But times have changed, haven't they."

Where Sharp does stand a chance of changing Wilder's mind is United's first choice eleven. Despite ending two of the last three seasons as their leading goalscorer, the 33-year-old is still waiting for his first Premier League start since United's promotion from the Championship last term. But with United averaging less than a goal per game - only three clubs have scored fewer during the opening eight fixtures - there have inevitably been calls for Sharp to begin the meeting with Arsenal later this month.

With United's record signing Oli McBurnie withdrawing from Scotland's Euro 2020 qualifiers against Russia and San Marino due to injury, he could be a step closer to forcing his way into the side which faces the visitors from London on October 21st. Sharp's equaliser against AFC Bournemouth in August - following a scramble in the penalty area - combined with the number of chances United have failed to convert since lends weight to the theory he remains United's most clinical finisher. Given Wilder's continued references to missed opportunities, it will be fascinating to see if he decides to ring the changes or, if McBurnie is passed fit, names an unchanged attack for the meeting with Unai Emery's men.

"Billy and Lys (Mousset) did well when they came on," Wilder said, assessing their performances at Vicarage Road. "They really helped us push after the others had seen us establish that foothold."