SHEFFIELD United are the most entertaining team in League One.
And Ched Evans is Bramall Lane’s biggest box-office hit.
Danny Wilson’s team have scored more goals than any other team in all four English divisions following Wednesday night’s thumping of Chesterfield.
Evans, a Wales international, has been responsible for nearly a quarter of those 77 efforts so far this term - a phenomenal transformation in fortune given that, for the first two seasons of his South Yorkshire career, the former Manchester City marksman looked more Hell’s Kitchen than Hollywood.
“I’m chuffed to bits to get 30 in a season,” Evans, who reached the landmark figure in all competitions having claimed a hat-trick against John Sheridan’s side, said. “I didn’t think it would be possible and now my target is 35.
“Everytime I hit the ball at the moment I feel as if it’s going to go in.
“It doesn’t bother me if I miss because I know the rest of the lads are going to create another chance for me pretty soon.”
Despite commanding a £3 million fee when he signed for United 32 months ago and being regarded by many observers as one of the brightest young talents in the game, Evans, by his own admission, failed to justify his star billing until Wilson’s appointment last summer.
Brian Flynn, a member of the principality’s coaching staff, once told this newspaper that the 23-year-old’s ability would eventually “shine through” after watching him score 13 goals in as many games at under-21 level. Providing, Flynn stressed, United went about their business in a manner which emphasised Evans’ strengths rather than weaknesses.
Wilson did exactly that within weeks of his return from injury in September. A brave decision which has borne quite brilliant results.
“Brian and the manager here are very similar in a lot of ways,” Evans, speaking ahead of tomorrow’s visit to Hartlepool, said. “They’re both really good to work for and they both bring out the best in their players.
“I’m loving it here now and I’m enjoying my football so much because the manager lets us express ourselves and he doesn’t have a go at me if I miss. In the past I always knew that if I hadn’t scored after an hour I’d be getting subbed and you’d be surprised how difficult that made things; trying to cram everything into 60 minutes or so.
“Brian Flynn and Danny Wilson both let you do what you’re good at rather than what you’re not.”
Nevertheless, Wilson’s success in repairing Evans’ shat
tered self-belief is not the only factor behind Evans’ resurgence. Boasting a goal every 1.3 games under Wilson, he had previously hit the target once in every 5.7.
Evans said: “Before I was focusing too much on just running around, trying to keep busy
and working hard outside of the area. I definitely wasn’t as clinical but now I’ve found a middle ground.
Evans will be searching for his 31st goal of the campaign when United resume their push for automatic promotion at Victoria Park. The midweek win over Chesterfield saw Wilson’s men regain second place in the table and restore their two point advantage over Sheffield Wednesday in third.
Evans, who last night heard Wilson admit he “wouldn’t swap Ched for any, other striker in the division” was still nursing an ankle problem when the two sides met in the Car
ling Cup earlier this season. However, he was on target when United, who had required penalties to qualify for the second-round draw, wrecked Neale Cooper’s managerial coronation with a 3-1 home victory on December 31.
“We’ve got some really good footballers here now and that means we’re very good at opening-up the people we’re playing against,” Evans said. “It’s great to know there’s that ability behind you.
“But I’m trying to do a lot more than just score goals. I’m working on trying to contribute in other areas.”
Teams and ref
HARTLEPOOL (Possible): Flinders, Austin, Horwood, S Collins, Humphreys, Baldwin, Murray, Liddle, Sweeney, Monkhouse, Noble (4-4-2).
UNITED (Possible): Simonsen, Lowton, Maguire, N Collins, Williams, Williamson, Doyle, McDonald, Quinn, Evans, Cresswell (4-4-2).
Carl Boyeson: The East Yorkshire official will be taking charge of United for the second time this term having overseen their FA Cup success over Oxford in November. Boyeson, making his first visit to Victoria Park in nearly two years, has sent off nine players in 31 matches since August.
One to watch
Evan Horwood started his career with Sheffield United but has blossomed since joining his home-town club. The defender amassed experience during loan spells with teams including Scunthorpe and York before arriving in the North-east via Gretna and Carlisle.
Sheffield United required penalties to knock Hartlepool out of the Carling Cup when they visited Victoria Park in August but beat Neale Cooper’s side 3-1 at Bramall Lane in December. Ryan Flynn, Chris Porter and Ched Evans were on target.