There is much more to come from record scorer Sharp, says Wilder
SHEFFIELD UNITED manager Chris Wilder has hailed the contribution of record-equalling Billy Sharp and warned Championship promotion rivals that his captain will continue to fire on all cylinders in 2019.
Sharp’s brace against Blackburn Rovers, in a game where both sides had a man dismissed, set up a 3-0 victory that moves the Blades to within four points of an automatic promotion place.
In doing so, Sharp became the highest English league goalscorer this century alongside former Southampton team-match Rickie Lambert on 219.
Wilder enthused: “Brilliant. You don’t back against him and he has four against Blackburn this season.
“They will be glad to see the back of him and there is much more to come from Billy in the second half of the season.
“Even if we can add at the top of the pitch (with signings in the transfer window) he will still be wanting to start and fight everybody off.
“He has that tag of a local lad and has had to do it the hard way. He had to go away for his career but he has come back and been outstanding for me.
“His record speaks for itself since I have been here on and off the pitch. What has Billy Sharp done for himself and this football club? That is the question you should ask and not ‘what have we done for him?’
“We have put him in the team and played two up front. He looks as fit as a fiddle and has been outstanding as a leader of the players, out there scoring goals.”
Sharp struck in the 73rd and 77th minutes after former Rotherham United midfield man Richie Smallwood was shown a straight red for a high challenge on the Blades captain.
The Blades had lost central defender Chris Basham 20 minutes earlier when he handled as Charlie Mulgrew fired a freekick into the defensive wall, having been shown a ninthminute yellow for a ball-winning challenge on Harrison Reed.
Wilder said: “It’s a physical game and players have to expect contact. Basham’s tackle was a great one and he was unfortunate with the second one.”
Of the victory, he said: “That is right up there. Compliment to the way the opposition attacked it in the first half. They freshened it up and made it a bit of a grind for us. For 45 minutes, they were as good a team as has been at Bramall Lane this season. We found it a bit of a struggle. When we went down to 10 men no-one would have seen the result that was coming.
“The organisation and discipline of the players was great. When it went to 10 v 10, the ruthlessness of the play was very clinical and the support when we needed it gave us that lift and energy. When it went to 10 v 10, there was only one winner.”
NOT bad for a ‘fat lad from Sheffield’ eh?
This light-hearted jibe was aimed at Billy Sharp by Doncaster Rovers’ manager Sean O’Driscoll when he was scoring a goal every two games for them in the Championship.
Since then the Blades’ captain has continued those goalscoring exploits and now stands alongside former Southampton team-mate Rickie Lambert with 219 league strikes after his double in a frenetic festive encounter against Blackburn Rovers.
They are the joint league top scorers among English players this century with Sharp’s goals having come in 110 fewer games – 495 against 605.
Sharp’s 15th and 16 goals for the season in all competitions made it a double double for him against Rovers.
A keen statistician, Sharp knew he had equalled Lambert’s record and said: “I played with Rickie at Southampton and he was a goal machine. He’s probably had too many beers to come out of retirement now, though.
“It’s a great personal achievement, but really, I just want to win something for Sheffield United. I need to make sure I go on and score more goals. I need to keep doing my job for Sheffield United.”
Sharp’s journey has taken him from Bramall Lane to Rushden & Diamonds, Scunthorpe, Doncaster, Southampton, Nottingham Forest, Reading and Leeds United and back to his beloved home club for the third time.
“If I could have played for Sheffield United all my career I would have loved to,” said Sharp. “I had to go away a couple of times to benefit my career, but I feel I came back at exactly the right time. I feel as fit and as strong as ever and I feel I can keep going for some time yet.”
The 32-year-old said there was no real secret behind the run that has brought him five goals in his last five games.
“I’m playing week-in, weekout, which helps a striker. The gaffer has stuck with me and shown belief in me. It’s about getting a rhythm and grinding away. That’s how you get goals.
“The way we play every player in the side enjoys it. I love playing for the club and I love the way we go about it as well with two players up top. I’ve got a great partnership going with Didzy (fellow scorer David McGoldrick). He’s scoring goals at the moment and I’m scoring goals as well.”
Manager Chris Wilder stuck with his front two even after seeing central defender Chris Basham dismissed for a second yellow card in the 51st minute and it paid dividends after former Rotherham midfielder Richie Smallwood followed him down the tunnel 20 minutes later for a tackle below the knee on Sharp.
By then Rovers’ manawger Tony Mowbray had gambled and failed by sending on two attacking players and going for width against the 10 men after Basham, harshly booked for a ball-winning early challenge, had gone for handling as Charlie Mulgrew fired a free-kick into a defensive wall.
Dean Henderson had been forced into just one smart save from Derrick Williams and, back to parity, the Blades showed their ruthlessness as McGoldrick headed across the six-yard area for Sharp to conjure enough space to drill in the 73rd-minute opener before striking again four minutes later.
This time the Blades played on the counter after Joe Rothwell threw himself to the floor looking for a penalty and Sharp patiently waited for the ball to drop from the left before striking down to David Raya’s right for the second.
There was still time for McGoldrick to puff out his chest in the manner his colleagues had done throughout and divert the ball into the roof of the net for his eighth goal of the season after John Fleck had pinched possession in the area and hammered the ball across.
It was a deflating defeat for promoted Rovers, who had suffered stoppage-time heartache at Leeds United on Boxing Day and who had matched the Blades in the first half when Mulgrew struck a post and Enda Stevens hit the bar for the hosts.
They had made seven changes from that Elland Road defeat, while Wilder stuck with an un- changed team for a fourth consecutive game.
Continuity won the day over rotation leaving the Blades four points shy of an automatic promotion place ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Wigan Athletic.
Wilder may freshen things up after their exertions and he is happy with the strength of his squad, though more attacking options are in the pipeline.
Sharp continued: “To be honest, we’ve been saying for a few weeks that we needed to grind one out. We can’t play well all the time, but we kept grinding away and the red card helped us. When our spell came, when our chances fell, we took them.
“We said at half-time that we’d not been at our best, but we were told to stay patient. It helped when they went down to 10 men – he caught me high, but it wasn’t hard or with a great deal of force – and we kept on going.
“We want to keep the run going, we want to try and kick on.
“The fans are seeing 18 players working hard for the club. The players behind the 18 are working hard, too. That’s what you need.”
DOUBLE ACT: David McGoldrick celebrates his eighth goal of the campaign as fellow striker and captain Billy Sharp runs across to offer congratulations after scoring his second of the game, inset, against Blackburn Rovers at Bramall Lane.