Penalties aren’t his strength but there’s no doubting Billy Sharp’s goalscoring class at Sheffield United

Billy Sharp celebrates after scoring one of two goals for Sheffield United against Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday
Billy Sharp celebrates after scoring one of two goals for Sheffield United against Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday

I wrote earlier in the season that United will win more than they lose with Billy Sharp and Mark Duffy in the starting line-up.

So it was again both Saturday and Wednesday, when both proved their worth once more. Duffy is such a clever player and only he in the current squad could have engineered and delivered the ball for the first and third goals at Millwall, not forgetting, of course, the part Kieron Freeman played in both. You don’t see enough ‘one-twos’ in football anymore, but Duffy and Freeman pulled two of them off to perfection.

Sharp was typical Sharp. Miss a penalty, then miss another good chance moments later, but don’t let it bother you. When another chance comes along, put it in the net. Then another two goalscorer’s goals at Blackburn that would have had Keith Edwards purring on Radio Sheffield. On the face of it simple finishes, but the type of goals the great Keith used to get because only the select few know instinctively where and when the ball will arrive.

Going back to Millwall, it’d be interesting to know whose idea it was to let David McGoldrick take the second penalty. Did Sharp step down voluntarily, or did Chris Wilder transmit his decision on to the pitch? McGoldrick scored from the spot at QPR, but he had just replaced Sharp that day. I’ve tried to find McGoldrick’s career penalty record but without success – can anybody help?

He’s a top goalscorer, but I’ve never been confident when Sharpy’s taking a penalty. Maybe it’s the way he varies where he puts them, often down the middle (high or low), but sometimes left, sometimes right. Or maybe it’s a bit further out than where he normally scores from. The best United penalty takers I have seen all stuck to one system – same place every time. If you have the confidence and accuracy, even if the goalkeeper knows where it’s going he won’t stop it. Those best penalty takers, by the way, are – in order – Peter Duffield, Mitch Ward (who both never missed), and James Beattie, who I recall missing only one. All three hit the ball hard and quite high to the goalkeeper’s right. Keith Eddy was pretty good too.

Beattie’s penalty-taking process was legendary. As soon as the kick was given he would commandeer the ball and steer clear of all the inevitable commotion, keeping himself to himself. When all the fuss had died down he would place the ball on the spot. Then he would stand motionless between the penalty spot and the edge of the area with his back to goal, looking down. As soon as the referee blew his whistle he would spin round, sprint towards the ball without ceremony and smash it, all but once into the net.

Penalties. The fact is (although many managers don’t seem to realise it) that the more times you get the ball into the penalty area the more likely you are to get penalties. United get the ball into the opponents’ penalty area a lot. Since Wilder has been at the Lane United have had 13 penalties, of which 10 have been scored (Sharp 7, Coutts 1, McGoldrick 2) and three saved (all Sharp). In the same period our opponents have had six penalties (4 scored, 1 missed, 1 saved by Simon Moore). These statistics prove without argument the statement at the beginning of this paragraph. Then again, when Dave Bassett was manager United once went 68 matches without being awarded a penalty, and his teams also got the ball in the area a lot. Make of that what you will.