Sheffield United: Chris Wilder makes a surprising claim about John Fleck's latest goal
Throughout his career, for Rangers, Coventry City and now Sheffield United, John Fleck has always been challenged to score more goals.
The midfielder, who according to Chris Wilder boasts a “wand of a left foot”, probably became sick to the back teeth with the implied criticism.
But on the evidence of this season, it appears to be having a positive effect. Fleck, who is expected to start Sunday’s game against Wolverhampton Wanderers, will enter the fixture having netted twice in his last four appearances; including one scrambled effort during last weekend’s draw with Manchester United.
“Is he allowed to claim that,” Wilder joked. “When it just comes back off him and hits him? Is that a proper goal? I don’t think that one is going to feature on the list of ‘101 Great Goals from John Fleck’ is it.
“But seriously, it’s just about getting into that position, filling the box and making sure were are positive in our approach. However we score, part of the game is making sure we get men forward.”
Fleck, whose performances for United were recently rewarded with a first senior Scotland cap, has built his reputation on tenacity and technique; one of those increasingly rare professionals who can both win the ball and then use it intelligently. But there has always been a feeling that his talents should translate into a greater number of goals. Tony Mowbray, one of his manager’s at the Ricoh Arena, was particularly outspoken on this subject.
Although he has never been prolific - the four he claimed for City and United during the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons represent a high in England - Fleck is already on target to break that landmark following his efforts against Burnley and the visitors from Old Trafford last weekend. Despite failing to find the back of the net in any of his first 10 outings this term, including Euro 2020 qualifiers with Russia and Kazakhstan, Fleck now averages one every seven appearances. This compares favourably to the figure of 10.75 he returned during his final campaign in the Midlands.
Wilder, speaking at United’s Steelphalt Academy training complex yesterday, said: “Even though we go from game to game, there are certain targets we have for the midfield scoring. They can’t just leave it to the boys at the top of the pitch.”
Like Fleck, Wilder believes John Lundstram can also trouble the scoresheet more than he does at present. The 25-year-old has hit the target on three occasions since United were promoted from the Championship seven months ago and, again like Fleck, that matches his previous highest return during an entire season.
With the two finally beginning to realise their potential in front of goal, Wilder was asked if Oliver Norwood’s work at the base of United’s midfield had been a contributory factor.
“Both boys, the whole three, have got good energy and technical ability,” he said. “So they’re expected (to score). It’s important that Flecky and Lunny in particular look to drive the game forward for us and fill the box for us.”
Norwood, Fleck and Lundstram are all set to feature at Molineux, although the latter is one caution away from an automatic suspension. United, sixth in the Premier League table and unbeaten in six, are a place and a point behind Nuno Espirito Santo’s side.