James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Why a new centre-forward might be a waste of money

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Do Sheffield United really need a new striker?

The answer on most folks’ lips, including those of Nigel Clough, is apparently ‘yes’ given the manager’s comments during his pre-match media briefing at the Redtooth Academy on Wednesday.

But, as the former England international’s team prepares for tomorrow’s crucial League One encounter against Preston North End, I’m going to cause something of a stir. By proposing that United, irrespective of whether they bolster the firepower at Clough’s disposal before next month’s transfer deadline, already possess two centre-forwards capable of firing them into the Championship. Argue the source of their problems in front of goal, which have seen them average only 1.27 per game in the competition this season, can be traced elsewhere.

Marc McNulty and Michael Higdon, signed during the close season from Livingston and NEC Nijmegen respectively, have experienced contrasting fortunes since arriving at Bramall Lane. But they do have one thing in common. Proven track records of putting the ball in the back of the opposition’s net.

Aged 22, McNulty is a star of the future. But, having hit the target in eight of his last 18 appearances, the new terrace darling can also effect the here and now.

Higdon, by his own admission, has yet to flourish in United colours. Nevertheless, despite a strained relationship with sections of the home crowd, the 31-year-old has netted five times in 10 starts and hit the target on 48 occasions in his previous 100 outings. Or, to put it another way, scores once every 2.08 outings. A pretty commendable return I’m sure you’ll agree.

History also suggests that Higdon is something of a slowburn. He has claimed no fewer than 14 goals in each of the last four seasons which also covers a prolific spell at Motherwell. In three of those, more than 50 per cent of his end total has come during the second half of the campaign.

So, with these figures in mind, perhaps a different slant on why United often fail to translate performances and possession into maximum points is required.

Better quality crosses, or the right kind of service, might actually hold the key to ensuring United unlock the potential within their ranks. Although, doubtless with Higdon’s detractors, this won’t be a popular remark.

Twitter: @JamesShield1