Match Analysis: Billy Sharp’s reluctance to discuss his first hat-trick in over a decade reveals what makes Championship leaders Sheffield United tick

Sheffield United captain Billy Sharp scored a hat-trick
Sheffield United captain Billy Sharp scored a hat-trick

Ten years, two months and 11 days after last claiming a hat-trick, Billy Sharp preferred to talk about his colleagues and particularly Leon Clarke.

It spoke volumes, about both the personality of its captain and Chris Wilder's squad as a whole. Little wonder, after watching the 32-year-old's goals propel them back to the summit, Paul Cook described Sheffield United as the competition's best team. In, Wigan Athletic's manager explained, the true sense of the word.

Sharp was the undoubted star of a show which, thanks in no small part to the visitors' enterprising approach, saw United confirm they can plot a course through games rather than simply grab them by the 

throat. That quaility, which Cook and Wilder later attributed to cameraderie, could prove invaluable when their nearest rivals, including Middlesbrough, West Bromwich Albion and Leeds, spend lavishly again during January's transfer window.

"We've got great togetherness in the changing room," Sharp, after scoring for the ninth, 10th and then 11th time this season, said. "The staff work hard on it but, as a group, it comes naturally to us. 

"They're an easy group to captain. We're all decent people and we're all ready to work hard for each other.

But he preferred to talk about his team mates, including Leon Clarke

But he preferred to talk about his team mates, including Leon Clarke

"It's not about individuals. People talk about 'us' not 'me' and that's music to my ears."

Around an hour before arriving in Bramall Lane's media suite to help dissect the game, Sharp's reaction to his second effort revealed exactly what he meant. Recalled to the starting eleven after watching United's draw with Stoke City from the bench, the centre-forward could have been forgiven for hogging the limelight following a clinical conversion at the far post. Instead, resisting the temptation to milk the moment in front of an ecstatic crowd, he ran straight towards the man who not only provided the assist but also had taken his place, and his armband, four days earlier.

"Huge praise to Leon for that one, I thought he was brilliant out there again," Sharp continued, belying the myth the two endure a difficult relationship. "He had a lot to do, to get that ball across on his so-called weaker foot, but that's exactly what he did. I got a good connection on it, the ball went in, but the credit should go to him."

Although the margin of victory suggests United had it easy, in truth their afternoon was anything but. Cook expressed concerns about Wigan's fragility away from home, where they have now lost six in a row, before insisting "whoever finishes above" his good friend Wilder's side "will probably go up." Yet there were periods in this fixture, most notably during a nip-and-tuck first-half, when Cook's charges were on top.

Billy Sharp's last hat-trick was 10 years ago

Billy Sharp's last hat-trick was 10 years ago

Indeed, when Sharp restored United's advantage following Chey Dunkley's own goal and Kai Naismith's equaliser, the former Chesterfield chief looked understandably distraught. Wigan, Sharp acknowledged, had caused problems going forward but were ultimately undone by a combination of United's persistence and the soft underbelly their guile eventually exposed.

"We knew they were going to come and give it a go," Sharp said. "We've seen teams come here, sit back and try to shut us out before nicking it 1-0. They weren't like that.

"We've talked about raising the bar and our standards on the pitch. We weren't at our best today but we got the three points so that's good. But we're trying to compete at the top end and so we've got to be at our best every week."

Wigan, promoted from League One last term, appear equipped to finish comfortably in mid-table and, if they become more durable, possibly more. United, meanwhile, should be encouraged by the fact they prevailed despite being forced to make adjustments when John Egan and Mark Duffy withdrew through injury. David McGoldrick, whose shift into the 'Number 10' position allowed Clarke and Sharp to reprise their partnership, brought a more attacking dimension to the role. But with Wilder predicting the midfielder could return against Nottingham Forest on Saturday, United's coaching staff could have a tough selection call to make.

Chris Wilder's team are on top of the Championship

Chris Wilder's team are on top of the Championship

"We've got a big squad," Sharp said. "There are some very good players who can't even get on the bench. 

"But that's why standards are so high, because they are pushing and making sure the lads who are in there are okay. You can't just have 11 or 14 players doing that anymore. It doesn't work. Things have moved on."

"The gaffer pulled me and told me I was coming back in for this one," Sharp added, reflecting upon is absence against City. "A few years ago I might have sulked. When I was younger, I'd have been frustrated. But I'm captain of the club and I've got to set an example. So the main thing for me is supporting the team. If  I'm not scoring goals, I want to be doing other things for the team and for the club."

United, who will be without Chris Basham at the City Ground due to suspension, were posed a series of questions during the opening exchanges before Dunkley turned the defender's cross into his own net. 

Dean Henderson, who later made a fine save to prevent Reece James' free-kick reaching its target, thwarted Gary Roberts from a set-piece but could not prevent his replacement, Naismith, threading home Nathan Byrne's cross. Sharp restored United's advantage moments before the interval and, soon after, pounced again following Clarke's fine work. Oliver Norwood, who had sent Clarke racing through, also had a hand in Sharp's third when James was caught out by his pass and Enda Stevens helped it on. Joe Garner became the second of Wigan's substitutes to score but his effort, from a Josh Windass centre, was simply a consolation.

"That was my first hat-trick since 2008, against Queens Park Rangers, here," Sharp, now in his third spell with United said. "But the win was the most important thing. That was just a bonus."