Sheffield United’s play-off hopes now look like they hinge on one crucial factor. Billy Sharp.
The striker’s absence has been a real blow for the Blades and has come at the worst time. Having stormed up the table and into the play-off picture, not only was Sharp’s goals so influential, but so too was his partnership with Morgan Gibbs-White.
The pair were forming a fruitful understanding that was more than laying the foundations for a top six finish.
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As well as Sharp’s 14 goals, he had also chipped in with seven assists, the same amount as Gibbs-White has provided, who has also found the net 10 times.
They have assisted each other for eight of those goals, with Sharp providing the ball for Gibbs-White three times and Gibbs-White retuning the compliment on five occasions.
When taking into account their goals and assists, the pair’s direct goal involvements have contributed 30 of their team’s total tally of 55. Indeed, the fact that Iliman Ndiaye and Sander Berge are next in the scoring charts with just four is an example of just how influential Sharp and Gibbs-White have been.
Sharp’s absence is clear for all to see not just on paper but yesterday’s 1-1 draw again highlighted how much they lacked his goalscoring prowess. Sheffield United dominated the match for 50 minutes but did not possess that ruthless streak in front of goal that they needed to put the game beyond their opponents.
There were a couple of chances that went begging inside the area that Sharp, watching from afar, would have snaffled up for sure. Since his hamstring injury in the 2-0 win over Barnsley prior to the international break, United have won just eleven. They have also scored just three in five and their form is stumbling.
Three wins in 11 and six games on the road without success has left United hanging on to sixth place having missed two glorious chances this weekend to put real distance between themselves and the chasing pack.
Not for the first time this season, manager Paul Heckingbottom traveled without a senior striker – Oli McBurnie the latest to suffer the injury curse that has threatened for so long to undo their good work.
Their promotion hopes are still in their own hands, but United look like they need Sharp back to get over the line.
However, there is hope on the horizon. Heckingbottom admits he has a chance of featuring at home to Cardiff on Saturday and that would be a huge boost to all concerned.
“I’m hoping to have him next game,” he told Yorkshire Live. “Everything has to go to plan for that, but I know he has had a good day today (Saturday). Listen, he’s champing at the bit to be involved, but we need to make sure he’s fit and available and ready to help us because we want him back.
“If he has watched that game at home, he will have seen four balls roll across the six yard line with a cut-back. It’s just the way it is. We have our number nines out, a couple for the season but hopefully we can get a couple back.”
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