Sheffield United v Leeds United: Why Whites must be wary of Billy Sharp

Double: Billy Sharp celebrates his second goal during the Championship match against Leeds at Bramall Lane. Picture: Jack Lancelott/Sportimage
Double: Billy Sharp celebrates his second goal during the Championship match against Leeds at Bramall Lane. Picture: Jack Lancelott/Sportimage
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BILLY SHARP is as much a part of the Yorkshire football scene as fish and chips at Scarborough are to the county’s summer tradition.

King Billy to his adoring Sheffield United public and someone who has engraved his place in Doncaster Rovers folklore, too, the Blades captain is equally a figure who Sheffield Wednesday fans love to hate – but perhaps somewhere deep down, secretly respect a touch.

Sharp’s impact has been felt at another former White Rose club in Leeds United, for good and bad as far as their supporters are concerned.

The forward’s time at Elland Road may not have really taken off, but it provided a couple of magic memories all the same.

Like a debut winning goal against Middlesbrough in David Hockaday’s sole league win in his ill-fated 70-day stint as head coach in August 2014, with that being topped by another last-gasp strike to clinch Leeds’s first double over hosts Huddersfield Town in almost 76 years in February 2015.

On the flip side, Sharp has inflicted plenty of pain upon the Whites in his career, most recently in February, with his derby brace proving the difference at Bramall Lane.

Liam Cooper celebrates Stuart Dallas's goal. Leeds United v Reading.  SkyBet Championship.  Elland Road. 27 November 2018.  Picture Bruce Rollinson

Liam Cooper celebrates Stuart Dallas's goal. Leeds United v Reading. SkyBet Championship. Elland Road. 27 November 2018. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Those Leeds followers who gather at S2 this lunchtime will probably inwardly wince if Sharp’s name is announced in the hosts’ starting line-up.

Speaking ahead of the game, Sharp possessed a clear glint in his eye. His record in high-stakes Yorkshire occasions is a seriously impressive one – even if it contains one glaring omission.

Today’s occasion is given added piquancy by the sight of the Blades and Leeds fighting it out at the top end of the second-tier, just as they were in the first half of last season and most famously in 1989-90 when both reached the top flight.

Sharp, who turns 33 in February, certainly will not be complaining if that happens again on both counts.

I seem to do well when I play Leeds. It is not that I lift my game or anything, I try to play at 110 per cent every game.

Blades striker Billy Sharp

On today’s eagerly-awaited derby joust, Sharp said: “I am looking forward to it, it is a big game for us and them as well and it is on TV. May the best team take the three points.

“Any sort of win for us on Saturday makes it a good week. Seven points from this week would be a brilliant return.

“It is pretty similar to last season when we played them around this stage, but away from home and beat them up to go top and we were both up there last season. It is where both clubs should be and, hopefully, we can both stay up there.

“Yorkshire derbies are brilliant games and there are lots of Yorkshire teams in the Championship as well. It would be nice for us especially and a few other teams to be up there as well.”

Famously, Sharp may have not yet found the net in a Sheffield derby in his goal-laden career, but it is a rare anomaly.

The derby goals have flowed elsewhere since first scoring for Rushden as a teenager in their derby with Northampton Town in the 2005-06 season.

Sharp has struck for both sides in the M180 derby between Scunthorpe United and Doncaster, as he has for Rovers and the Blades in neighbourly disputes, with fans of both sides also heralding plenty of other contributions against Tyke rivals.

A winner for Doncaster against the Owls in 2009-10 represented a sweet moment, while a long way from the Broad Acres, Sharp also saw his name in lights after netting twice for Southampton in the South Coast derby with Portsmouth, one of the fiercest rivalries in the land.

As for his stand-out memory, he added: “I am not sure. I would like to have got one against Wednesday (for the Blades), but it is not to be yet. But the one for Donny against Wednesday was nice. I can sit here for a while and talk about derby goals; the volley was nice as well against Leeds last season.

“I seem to do well when I play Leeds. It is not that I lift my game or anything, I try to play at 110 per cent every game. Hopefully, the luck will continue.”

A slightly incredulous reaction from Sharp may have followed a line of questioning as to whether the Blades against Leeds could become the biggest Yorkshire derby for him, but it is a rivalry that still carries plenty of weight.

United against Wednesday may always be the one for him, but this particular rivalry is certainly rated as second, spiced up by the teams’ current positions and the presence of a good friend in rival captain Liam Cooper in the Leeds ranks.

He said: “You come and see the results come in on the TV and you are looking to see if Leeds have lost at the minute.

“If Leeds have won, I look to see who has scored and if Coops has scored, I will send him a text and what have you. In general, you want to take care of your own game and hope everyone else loses.

“Leeds is a great club. It was just going through a bit of a transition where it was not probably run to the best way it should have been with the owner and three managers when I was there (in 2014-15).

“But if it was not for Sheffield United coming in for me, I would have probably stuck it out with Leeds as I had another year left. I was not in any rush and it was not as if I hated it there.

“Liam is probably the only one there now from when I was there. He loves playing for Leeds, I know that and he signed a new contract not long ago and is captain of the club.”

As to whether he texted Cooper after his three goals versus Leeds last term, Sharp revealed: “I think I did after the away game, yes.

“I also remember the volley going just over him which nearly took his head off...”