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Sharp shines again, as United lace pressure on the top two

Sheffield United boosted their automatic promotion hopes with an effortless win over relegation-threatened Bolton Wanderers. 

Chris Wilder’s side as predicted dominated the first half, and we’re unlucky not to take a first half lead. Scottish midfielder John Fleck was denied in the 41st minute, as Bolton’s Gary O’Neil managed to get a last-ditch touch on the ball to send it for a corner.

However, David McGoldrick managed to put the Blades ahead, connecting onto a low-cross from his strike partner Billy Sharp, following a great showing of pace and strength from the skipper. Moments later, the Wanderers came very close to an equaliser but forward Sammy Ameobi was unable to convert Jason Lowe’s whipped cross.

Captain Sharp then went on to secure the three points for his side, with a close-range header following a set-piece situation, which was finely swung into the six-yard box by Ollie Norwood.

Phil Parkinson’s side may have had to leave Bramall Lane empty handed, but an admirable defensive display in front of immense pressure from the Blades, will surely give them some positives to take away.

The opener from McGoldrick was his fifth goal in his last seven appearances for United, his 11th for the season. Whilst, Sharp netted his 19th league goal of the campaign, making them the joint-most prolific strike-pairing in the division, tied on goals with West Brom’s Dwight Gayle, and Jay Rodriguez.

The three points temporarily placed Chris Wilder’s team into second place, although have recently slipped back down to third due to Norwich’s victory at Elland Road. Despite this, United still sit in a fantastic position, only three points behind both Norwich and Leeds with a positive goal difference over their rivals.

Analysing United’s style of play during the game, they again succeeded at controlling and dictating the play for a high percentage of the match, whilst using their natural fitness and short passing ability to wear down Bolton’s aging defence. Their high defensive-line and constant pressure system, also allowed them to dispose Bolton of possession in their own half, proceeding to an instant counter-attack.

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The high amount of passes completed from United’s back three of John Egan, Jack O’Connell, and Chris Basham, also shows how the Blades dominated possession deep. Using their central defenders to hold possession and command the rhythm of the game, before space opened up in the final third.

Additionally, it can’t be ignored how successful Wilder’s side were at creating goal scoring opportunities from set-pieces. Not only, did Sharp’s headed finish come from a Norwood set-piece, but United won 13 corners through the duration of the game, developing several clear-cut chances as a result.

Furthermore in a game which ended 2-0, United only managed two shots on-target all game, which may seem low considering the amount of possession they had throughout the game. Admitting, this also shows the clinicalness of Wilder’s frontline, with Sharp making a career out of making the most out of few chances.

new-5c-20visual_36039329.pngAgainst Bolton, Sharp had fewer touches of the ball than any other Blades player that started the game, but still managed to bag a goal, an assist, and unleash four key passes. Enhancing a classic fox in the box, Sharp proved his ability to control the action, without even touching the ball, solely through his physical presence and movement in the opposition’s half.

Indicating contrast, Sharp didn’t just show his confidence in-front of goal, but also his composure to cut through a defence with his passing ability, as shown with his assist for McGoldrick’s opener.

Conclusively, following this impressive home display the Blades must now prepare for a trip to Villa Park on Friday, as they take out Dean Smith’s out-of-form Aston Villa.

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Does Gary Madine warrant a starting place in Sheffield United’s front line?

Being consistently tagged as ‘a handful at this level’ by many Championship defenders including Sheffield United’s own Jack O’Connell and John Egan, the loan signing of Cardiff City forward Gary Madine has caused nothing but split opinion between Blades fans since his arrival.

The 28-year-old has been heavily criticised before even touching a football in a United shirt, due to his foolish off the field antics early into his professional career. However, with Chris Wilder praising his professionalism and enthusiasm to play for Sheffield United, the only question that needs answering is does Madine have the footballing ability to lead United’s strikeforce to Championship glory?

Early in his career, Madine saw minimal success with stints at Carlisle United, and Sheffield Wednesday which included various short loan spells at Rochdale, Coventry City on two occasions, and Blackpool. It wasn’t until his move to Bolton Wanderers in 2015, where he first started to flaunt his strong presence, and aerial ability, which has carved him into the perfect Football League target man.

Helping the Trotters gain promotion back to the Championship in 2017, he then followed up the promotion campaign, with a magnificent start to life in the Championship. Being the focal point in Phil Parkinson’s long ball system, Madine would hold up play, and have the ability bring two central defenders out of the game at one time, to allow Bolton’s widemen to cut inside and worry the goalkeeper. The English forward’s remarkable start to the 2017/18 season, then opened the eyes of Cardiff City’s manager Neil Warnock, who in the January transfer window splashed a reported £6 million on Madine, making him the Bluebirds most expensive transfer since the 2013/14 season. Despite, not scoring a league goal for Cardiff, he still showed glimpses of his best, as many blades fans will remember Madine knocking the ball down to Anthony Pilkington who scored a last-minute equaliser at Bramall Lane last term.

So, now having the lowdown on Madine’s most successful Championship campaign, how does he compare to Wilder’s current frontline?

Apps Goals Shots per game Assists Key Passes Pass Succession% Dribbles per game Aerials Won
Madine (17/18) Bolton 28 10 2.7 5 1.5 58.2 0.3 8.8
Madine (17/18) Cardiff 5 (8) 0 0.8 2 0.8 59.7 0.2 4
Sharp 21 (4) 16 2 1 0.8 75.8 0.1 1
McGoldrick 22 (5) 10 2.7 3 0.6 73.9 0.9 2.6
Clarke 9 (14) 3 0.9 3 0.4 61.8 0.1 2.6
Washington 3 (9) 0 0.8 1 0.3 83.3 0.2 0.3

When comparing Madine’s clinical nature in front of goal against United’s current forwardline, obviously the skipper Billy Sharp outshines every other striker with his impressive goal to game ratio this season. Although, comparing his time at Bolton with David McGoldrick shows how put into the right system, Madine may prove to be as effective as the Irishman. Also, with him slightly averaging more shots per game than Sharp, placed in Wilder’s free flowing attacking system, with the likes of Mark Duffy, John Fleck, and Oliver Norwood supporting the tall striker, he will more than likely flourish in their presence.

Additionally, it is evident that Madine is bestowed with a creative flair that our other forwards lack. Averaging more key passes than our current front line, alongside an impressive seven assists for both Championship club’s last term, suggests his quality in the air, and ability to link up with another striker, which may bring even more goals out of Sharp and McGoldrick.

Looking at the most pivotal part of Madine’s style of play, his ability to dominate the football in the air, and use his powerful physique to hold of defenders, allowing more space in the penalty area. Madine clearly would be Wilder’s best option to utilise as a target man, with Leon Clarke usually being the forward to operate the role. The 28-year old obliterates his competitors by a large margin with the number of aerial duels he wins per game, proving with Madine in the side, Wilder will always have the option to resort to a route one, direct style of play, if his team is struggling to break down a resolute back line.

Apps Aerials Won
Kieffer Moore (Barnsley) 16 (4) 9.6
Gary Madine (Bolton) 28 8.8
Steve Morison (Millwall) 38 (6) 7.5
Sean Morrison (Cardiff) 38 (1) 7.2
Matt Smith (QPR) 17 (24) 6.9
Harlee Dean (Birmingham) 34 6.4
Joe Garner (Preston) 29 (3) 6.3
Tom Elliott (Millwall) 8 (16) 6.2
Shaun Hutchinson (Millwall) 46 6.1

Interestingly, comparing him against the rest of the Championship on aerial duels won alone, there is only Barnsley’s forward Kieffer Moore that had the ability to control the ball in the air, at a better standard than the Blades’ new signing. Justifying how even compared to the most dominant aerial central defenders the Championship had to offer last season, Madine was always able to use his height and physical advantage to command and even separate the more structured back lines.

Withal considered, Madine does have the grit and technique to maintain a starting position in Wilder’s front line. Granting this, with the consistent nature in front of goal of Sharp, and the skilful attributes that McGoldrick brings, Madine may just have to make his mark off the bench and win over the critical Sheffield United fans.