Billy Sharp still proving vital to the cause at Sheffield United

September was Billy Sharp month at Sheffield United.

There were lots of factors which belatedly got the Blades’ season up and running – the creativity of Iliman Ndiaye and Morgan Gibbs-White, the industry of Ben Osborn, the overdue goalkeeping upgrade that was Robin Olsen, and the bedding-in of Ben Davies amongst them. But when it came to centre-forward, it was all about one man.

He may have scored just twice in September’s five games but his link-up play, assists and his all-round inspiration added plenty on top of that.

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Now 35, Sharp is of an age where managers are tempted to move on from him, but they usually end up realising they cannot. He is still as vital as ever to the club he embodies, and long may that continue.

Still going strong: Blades striker Billy Sharp controls the ball during the Championship match at Oakwell, Barnsley. Picture: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

But it is not an ageist remark to say Sharp cannot lead the line alone for a whole 46-game season – particularly as it looks pretty clear that if the Blades are going to be able to declare it a success, three play-off games will have to be tacked on the end. A 25-year-old could not.

Even Tottenham Hotspur have to turn to Son Heung-Min from time to time. Chelsea scored seven at the weekend without Romelu Lukaku. Even England... okay, bad example.

If Sharp’s form was a big reason why Slavisa Jokanovic persisted so much with him, the form and fitness of others was another. For the second season running, the Blades were a team with too many strikers yet also not enough they could rely on.

Now, after three goals in two games for Lys Mousset, with Oli McBurnie threatening to get up to speed after the injury that ended his season and kaiboshed his European Championship hopes, and with David McGoldrick decisive against Stoke City, for the first time Jokanovic looks to have options up front at Bramall Lane.

He wanted his team to see out their 3-0 lead at Barnsley on Sunday so Rhian Brewster could get a gentle few minutes but they could not, so he remains a striker of last resort, but still things look a lot better.

It is, of course, fragile. Mousset limped off feeling his calf shortly after missing out on his hat-trick at Oakwell. His durability has been a concern longer than he has been a Sheffield United player. McBurnie has never fulfilled for Sheffield United the potential he showed at Swansea City and, like McGoldrick, has only scored once this season.

But in another way, that is exciting. There is much more to come, and given the headstart they have generously given 13 Championship sides, the Blades will need it.

“Lys has been working with us to try in some way to put himself in the optimal level to show all the talent, all the speed this guy has in his body and his feet,” said Jokanovic.

“On Sunday, he was working hard, running the spaces very well. He showed the quality of finishing really well.

“He was dangerous going past the defenders.

“I believe he has a really huge gap for improvement and we’re here to push him. We expect collaboration from his side, too.

“On Sunday, his collaboration with the team was very good and he played with a lot of thought, a lot of concentration and a lot of quality.

“It depends on him. I believe he can do important things for us but I expect – and this is more important – that he’s able to work at the level we expect is necessary.

“We are here to try and support him in the right direction to help the team and it will help him personally, too. He can be important for my team.”

Get even three of his five centre-forward options firing at any one time, and Jokanovic will have the tools to tailor his attack to each opponent, passing the baton between them as the same players did in 2019-20. One day it might be the pace of Mousset or Brewster which holds sway. McBurnie has the height of a centre-forward but as he showed at Barnsley is probably as suited to the No 10 role Chris Wilder did not use in the Premier League.

“Oli McBurnie played a very good game on Sunday, too,” Jokanovic was keen to stress. “He got on the ball a lot of the time and he can help us a lot at set pieces - defensive and offensive.”

McGoldrick to all intents and purposes is a No 10, a player who naturally vacates the centre-forward berth from time to time if a manager puts him there, who loves to drop deep and create.

Sharp, with his experience, his leadership qualities, his ability to run the channels and even his penalty-taking skills will be an important part of the equation for some time yet, perhaps the most important.

But it is vital he is not the only part.