SHEFFIELD UNITED striker Leon Clarke is “in the form of his life”, according to manager Chris Wilder.
The Blades moved to the summit of the Championship for the first time in a dozen years on Friday night courtesy of a convincing derby victory at Leeds United.
Wolves failed to knock United off the top a little under 24 hours later by losing to QPR and there can be no denying that Wilder’s men are firmly in the race towards the Premier League.
Captain Billy Sharp and David Brooks scored the all-important goals at Elland Road, in the process netting for the 70th and first times, respectively, in Blades colours.
But Wilder chose to single out Clarke, the 32-year-old who is at his 17th professional club, for special praise after the key role he has played in the Bramall Lane outfit’s surprise promotion push.
“Leon is in the form of his life,” said the Blades’ chief, who spent Saturday afternoon watching tomorrow night’s opponents QPR win 2-1.
“If he has played any better, he must have been pretty special at other clubs. I felt his performance against Leeds deserved a goal.
“John Fleck pulled one back to him on the penalty spot and he will have been disappointed not to have hit it a bit cleaner. But his all-round general play is outstanding.
“Whether it is Billy at the top of the pitch or Brooksy and (Mark) Duffy (slightly behind), Leon takes the responsibility of being the main man up there.
“That is not being disrespectful to the skipper, but he gives us a focal point and someone for Billy to play off. If we change our shape, it allows Brooky to play round him.”
Considering the chances the visitors created at Elland Road in the first half, the first derby between the two clubs in more than six years could easily have been as good as over by the break.
As it was, Leeds drew level with a volley from Kalvin Phillips that meant it took Brooks’s first goal in the Football League to earn the three points that the Blades’ efforts deserved.
Wilder, however, was critical of his side in the immediate aftermath, suggesting they had been too sloppy on the ball.
“I demand high standards,” explained the Lane chief. “That was why I said what I did after Leeds. We can’t just sit back and say, ‘That is how it is, this is us’.
“We were better at Forest than at Leeds, but the result was the opposite. Football can be funny like that. We want to marry really good performances with results. The key is getting those performance levels right, because then the results will come.”