MANAGER Chris Wilder says veteran striker Billy Sharp has earned his new contract at Sheffield United.
The forward – who became the leading English league goalscorer this season – has penned a new two-year deal that will keep him at his boyhood club until he is 35.
The 33-year-old striker has netted 23 goals in 32 appearances this season to fire the Blades into the top two in the Championship with just 13 games remaining.
Promotion would cap a remarkable rise from League One, under the leadership of Sharp and manager Wilder, to the Premier League.
And Wilder insists Sharp – and defender Enda Stevens, who yesterday signed a new three-year contracts – have earned their new deals.
“There’s no sentiment involved,” said Wilder. “Billy deserves his reward and the same goes for Enda. They improve the group.
“It’s important to show to the players that there are rewards out there.
“If you produce performances there is a reward.
“It’s important we keep improving as a group from my point of view and the club wants to keep its best players.”
Stevens has proven to be astute business for Wilder, who signed him on a free transfer from Portsmouth in 2017.
The 28-year-old, who had a couple of loan spells at Doncaster Rovers from Aston Villa earlier in his career, is rated by Wilder as one of the best wing-backs in the Championship.
“Enda leads by example, the calmness of his approach,” said Wilder.
“Billy has more responsibility and his leadership skills are excellent.
“Billy realises he can’t stand still. He was a good player three years ago; he is a better player now. That carrot, to go out and earn the next contract, has to be dangled, and that’s what Billy and Enda will want to do.”
The pair’s decision to commit their long-term future to United follows several other new deals for team-mates in recent months.
But Wilder has ruled out any other contract business until the club’s ownership dispute has been resolved and United know what division they will be playing in next season.
“We’ll leave it now until the end of the season and see where we are,” he said.
“The ownership will be decided by then too. We’re settled, the players can get their heads down and we’ll assess everything else then.”
United will be boosted by the return of three defenders tomorrow for the trip to promotion rivals West Brom.
George Baldock (calf) and Jack O’Connell (hamstring) have returned to training, while Chris Basham is available following suspension.
Wilder was expecting them to train yesterday, and “hopefully be involved at the weekend, so that’s good news,” he said.
“Everybody else is fighting fit and raring to go.
“There is genuine competition and I have to pick the right team.”
With United not kicking off until 5.30pm at The Hawthorns, they could start outside the top two, if third-placed Leeds United can gain at least a point when they play strugglers Bolton Wanderers at Elland Road earlier in the day.
Leaders Norwich City will welcome sixth-placed Bristol City to Carrow Road.