Sheffield United: Chris Wilder reveals a '˜problem' involving two key players has left him facing a big dilemma
It is a measure of the progress they have made this season that, despite entering Saturday's match against Wigan Athletic third in the Championship, Sheffield United still have concerns about aspects of their game.
Chris Wilder talks endlessly about "big moments." He remains obsessed about clean sheets and other details.
But the most pressing item in his in-tray at the Steelphalt Academy this week has been ensuring United begin translating chances into goals. If they master the art, the manager believes, the sheer volume they create means a top six is a real possibility.
Although Wilder is expected to try and increase his squad's attacking options during the January transfer window, most probably targeting a top-flight striker on loan, the search for more firepower begins on the training pitch. Or, to be totally accurate, the video analysis suite where the 51-year-old and his staff discuss tactics and selections ahead of first team games.
"All of the goalscorers we've got here bring different things to the table and to the football club," Wilder said, explaining why Leon Clarke started Tuesday's draw with Stoke City in place of Billy Sharp. "We just felt it was the right time to play Leon and that, tactically, it would help us to have him and David (McGoldrick) out there. The good thing about the options we've got is that none of them are quite the same. so that flexibility is there."
Wilder's determination to recruit another centre-forward reflects a desire to increase United's skill set, not disappointment with the contributions of Clarke, Sharp, McGoldrick and their fellow marksman Conor Washington. Indeed, given the fact three of those are aged over 30, there is a feeling that reducing their workload will enable them to maintain the performance levels which have propelled United up the table. It was exactly this theory, remembering how he returned following a spell on the sidelines last season, which influenced the decision to recall Clarke at Sharp's expense for City's visit on Tuesday. With his team mate watching from the bench, Clarke repaid Wilder's faith with a close-range finish before Joe Allen equalised.
"Getting that will give Leon confidence," he said. "It's the same with every centre-forward. But he doesn't need that from me, he knows what I think of him and what the crowd think of his too. He's had an up and down time at a few clubs before here but the backing our fans give him is genuine."
Clarke's effort, his first of the campaign, means Washington, signed from Queens Park Rangers two months ago, is now the only United striker yet to get off the mark.
"You want them all to get off the mark," Wilder added. "Because you know it's a weight off their mind. Even when we were 2-0 up at Blackburn recently, when Wash went through we were desperate for him to score because it gives him that confidence.
"It's brilliant. I want dilemmas like the one with Billy and Leon. I'm delighted by it. I'll take those kinds of dilemmas all day long."