Chris Wilder insists Leon Clarke has proved his commitment to Sheffield United by playing through injury.
Clarke, the former Sheffield Wednesday and Bury centre-forward, enters Saturday’s game against Shrewsbury Town searching for his third goal in as many games after recovering from a long-standing ankle problem.
Although Wilder told The Star that impact underlines why United fought tooth and nail to sign him in May, he is even more impressed by the 31-year-old’s attitude at the start of the campaign.
“I’ve maintained all along what an asset he’ll be for us,” Wilder said. “What a big part he’ll play.
“What he did at the start of the season, that boy played injured. He played with a bit of bone floating around in his ankle.
He stuck his hand up to play at Millwall, he did the same against Southend. He’s not someone who wants to duck out of games and that says a lot about him. That tells you the type of person he really is.”
Clarke scored only once in his first eight outings for United before being diagnosed with the complaint which subsequently forced him to miss their next 10 matches. But, after making a goalscoring return at Grimsby Town last week, he netted his third of the season during Sunday’s 4-1 victory over Chesterfield.
“If we get the ball into the right positions, then you know he is going to score goals,” Wilder said. “But what he did at the start of the season, when he was obviously carrying something, was superb.
“We’ve seen a big change in Leon on the training ground since he came back. He’s a quality player and he’ll be big for us going forward, I’m sure of that.”
With Clarke, Matt Done and Caolan Lavery all available for selection, Wilder must decide who partners Billy Sharp in attack for the visit of Paul Hurst’s side. United have hit the target 26 times in their last seven fixtures with Sharp claiming six of those goals.
“It’s good that we’ve got options up there now,” Wilder said. “There was a time, with Leon and Matty being out and Caolan not quite being fit, that we were short of numbers. So you’ve got to give so much credit for the rest of the lads for getting through that period. But all of the boys up there now have different qualities, bring different things to the table and that’s a nice thing to have.”
United climbed to third in the table after triumphing at the Proact Stadium. They trail second placed Bradford City by a point but have played a game less than Stuart McCall’s side.