Sheffield United's big dilemma ahead of Saturday's trip to Crystal Palace
It was late on Friday night, after they had settled into their Docklands hotel ahead of an FA Cup tie against Millwall, when Sheffield United’s coaching staff sat down to discuss the possibility of naming David McGoldrick on the bench following his recovery from injury.
The centre-forward was never going to start at The Den. After missing two Premier League games because of a foot complaint, the plan had always been to ease him back into action.
But after first debating the wisdom of naming him on the team sheet during their journey to London, Chris Wilder took the decision to grant McGoldrick another seven days of rest rather than a brief second-half cameo.
“We just decided not to gamble with Didzy,” Wilder, who is instead expected to reintroduce McGoldrick at Crystal Palace this weekend, said. “It wasn’t worth taking the risk.
“But he’s fine, no problem and doing well. Like I say, we just thought it was better doing it like this.”
Although Wilder’s comment suggests McGoldrick was only passed fit on the eve of the game, they also confirm the value he places on what the Republic of Ireland international brings to the table despite failing to score since April.
But with Billy Sharp and Oli McBurnie both impressing of late, Wilder is now wrestling with the type of dilemma managers love having but keeps them awake at night ahead of Saturday’s return to the capital.
Neither Sharp nor McBurnie warrant being rested. But, by Wilder’s own admission, United perform with greater fluency when McGoldrick is on the pitch.
“It doesn’t matter to me if he doesn’t get one (a goal) for the rest of the season,” the 52-year-old said recently, when the subject of McGoldrick’s finishing was raised. “We all know what he gives us, the rest of the lads know what he gives us. When Didzy plays well, we play well too.”
The level of McGoldrick’s involvement at Selhurst Park is likely to rest upon the the outcome of a meeting later this week, when Wilder, his assistant Alan Knill and first team coach Matt Prestridge analyse the research United’s analysts have undertaken on a Palace side which enters the game without a win in six outings.
Although the basic framework will not change, Wilder’s tactics are more flexible than portrayed by some sections of the media, whose commentary suggests he is wedded to the 3-5-2 system which has proven so successful for United in recent years.
During the 1-1 draw with Arsenal earlier this month, they changed shape on numerous occasions throughout the second-half after falling behind just before the interval. Those adjustments confused the opposition and helped create the space for Callum Robinson and Sharp to set-up John Fleck’s equaliser.
That result helped eighth-placed United remain within touching distance of the top six.
“We’ll always pick the team we think is best suited to a game,” Wilder, whose squad will face either Cardiff City or Reading in the fifth round, said. “Sometimes, if someone drops out, that’s not a reflection on what they’ve done before. Just that we think doing something else might suit us better in the next one.”