Five goals in his last six appearances or, to put it another way, a strike-rate better than Diego Costa and Olivier Giroud.
Billy Sharp, both personally and statistically speaking, is in a pretty good place right now.
“I’m happy with the way I’ve played. I’ve got into some good positions and had some good chances. The support we’re getting is unbelievable but the most important thing, always, is our results.”
Those, as Sheffield United’s recent record in League One demonstrates, have been surprisingly difficult to come by of late with Nigel Adkins’ side entering tomorrow’s meeting with Doncaster Rovers hoping to secure only its second win this month. Sharp, preparing to face his former club for the first time since leaving the Keepmoat Stadium last year, feels the pressure more acutely than most given the emotional investment he made in Bramall Lane after returning for a third spell during the close season.
“There’s always pressure on a professional footballer,” Sharp, who grew-up supporting Nigel Adkins’ side, acknowledges. “Yes, I’m a fan and I know the fans are expecting me to score.
“But that’s no different to myself. I just love scoring goals and that’s what I expect to do. The squad, I can already see, has got loads of quality in it and a lot of goals. Nobody can put any more pressure on me than I do myself. Really, it’s not an issue at all.”
Plenty of water has passed beneath Lady’s Bridge during the centre-forward’s 11 year association with United. And, as he freely admits, not all of it placid. A promising but unproven talent when Adkins’ predecessor Neil Warnock sold him to Scunthorpe in 2005, Sharp returned following Bryan Robson’s appointment two years later before departing again, this time for Rovers, after cracks appeared in his relationship with the England legend’s replacement Kevin Blackwell. Adkins’ arrival three months ago paved the way for Sharp’s return and, given their success together at Glanford Park and Southampton, things promise to be different this time around.
“He was a big pull to get me here, Nigel Adkins. I always wanted to come back, I never wanted to leave in the first place but I had to for the sake of my career. “I’m stronger, older and better now. I’m better equipped to be a Sheffield United player.
“I’m also lucky in a way because some people only get the chance to play for their club once, if at all. This time, I’ve got to make sure it’s a success.”
So far so good as the facts and figures behind United’s latest bid to drag themselves back into the Championship proves. Sharp has scored nearly a third of their goals in all competitions and cites Adkins, who boasts four promotions on his managerial CV, as a major factor behind his form.
“The facilities here have always been good but there have also been changes for the better. The gaffer knows what he’s doing and he’s got promotions under his belt. It’s a positive, definitely, that he’s got automatics too. He knows the type of challenges that you face and the type of problems that are likely to arise.”
How best to utilise Sharp’s talents too. Having spent a significant portion of his transfer budget prising Sharp away from Leeds - “I know I’ll get some stick but I always had this feeling I’d end up playing for them” - Adkins charged the 29-year-old with leading an attack purpose built to accentuate his strengths and negate his weaknesses. It mirrors the tactics employed by Danny Wilson to resurrect Ched Evans’ career with United during the early stages of the 2012/13 season. Another triumph of design over accident although Sharp, reflecting upon the recent defeat by Colchester, is adamant faith is more important than formations.
“It’s a big confidence booster when you know that a manager believes in you. Another one might have taken me off at half-time then because I’d missed a few chances. Two really good ones, definitely.
“But he didn’t, he kept me out there and that just makes you even more determined to repay him. The great thing about the gaffer is that he doesn’t make you afraid of making a mistake. He’s supportive when things aren’t going well and is always encouraging you to try things. Express yourself and show what you’re all about.”
Adkins is not Sharp’s only source of encouragement though.
“I always go to see my dad after matches because he comes to watch. He tells me to keep my head up if things haven’t gone well but, don’t get me wrong, he gives me the odd telling-off too.
“He’s been a really big influence on me throughout my whole career. He wasn’t a professional footballer, he played semi-pro himself, but knows exactly what to say and when to say it. He’s been a huge help to me.”
“I play to impress my mum, my dad and the fans who pay their money to come and watch us,” Sharp adds. “I’m lucky to be here and I know I’m in a very privileged position to be doing what I do.”
United enter the game against Rovers seventh in the table having averted a third straight loss by drawing at Bradford City five days ago. The visitors appeared done for when Devante Cole doubled City’s lead early in the second half before James Meredith’s own goal allowed Sharp to complete a dramatic comeback.
Ranked 22nd in the table and with caretaker manager Rob Jones at the helm, Rovers’ hopes of causing an upset could depend on their ability to drive a wedge between United, who slipped to a 3-1 reverse when Bury travelled to South Yorkshire earlier this month, and the home support.
“Emotions were low after the last home game,” Sharp says. “But there were positives to take. Our first-half performance (against Colchester) was unacceptable but, despite being under pressure in front of our own fans, we dragged ourselves back into contention and that shows we’re made of the right stuff.”