When Clayton Donaldson scored twice on his Sheffield United debut at Sunderland earlier this season, plenty was written about how the centre-forward had been signed for less than Jack Rodwell earns in a week.
But as the £50,000 acquisition from Birmingham City demonstrated once again during Saturday’s draw with Aston Villa that there is not always a correlation between price, earnings and quality.
“I made that clear when I first came in,” Donaldson admitted. “It was one of the things I immediately noticed. I knew about a lot of the lads and I knew they were good players because of what they’d achieved before.
“Still, witnessing first hand the amount of quality we’ve got here was surprising. Pleasantly surprising, though.”
Although it does little to strengthen Wilder’s claim for an improved transfer budget, United enter tomorrow’s return with the visitors from Wearside having scored another victory of sorts for the dying arts of proper coaching, intelligent scouting and maximising assets.
Villa, their most recent opponents, entered last weekend’s game with over £30m worth of signings in their starting eleven and a £10m striker on the bench.
Sunderland, whose performances have improved following Chris Coleman’s appointment, also boast an expensively assembled squad despite finding themselves in trouble at the wrong end of the Championship table.
“We’ve competed with all the teams we’ve faced,” Donaldson continued.
“Even the ones with the high wage bills. There’s been very little to separate us, in fact we’ve been better on lots of occasions, so I reckon that shows we’ve got a chance.”
Injury denied Donaldson the opportunity to build upon his match-winning performance at the Stadium of Light.
But, having recovered from the hamstring complaint he suffered in the North-East, he claimed his third and fourth goals in United colours as Chris Wilder’s side came from 2-0 down to secure a share of the spoils at Villa Park.
The 33-year-old, who spent three seasons with the former European champions’ arch-rivals, hopes his contribution will be rewarded with another start this afternoon.
“I knew I was going to get a fair bit of stick from the crowd at Villa,” he continued.
“The best way of dealing with that is to play well. When I got my first, I could hear their fans giving me a bit of gip. So when I got the second, I thought ‘remember what you were saying earlier?’”
Sunderland were without a win in 13 outings when former Wales manager Coleman, pictured, was unveiled as Simon Grayson’s replacement last month. The fact they have won twice in seven since confirms Wilder’s suspicion that today’s fixture will prove much more awkward that September’s.
Nevertheless United, who despite impressing against Villa have slipped from first to seventh in a little over a month, view it as an opportunity to regain their top six place in front of a packed crowd at Bramall Lane.
“We’ve got a good forward line here,” Donaldson said. “There’s competition, which is good, and we all bring something different to the table which is good too.”