Big Match Verdict – Lucky 13 as David McGoldrick continues to prove the talisman for Sheffield United

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder has taken to referring to David McGoldrick jokingly as “our Ballon D’Or winner” since his recent man-of-the-match exploits with the Republic of Ireland.

Match-winner: David McGoldrick is hugged by Oliver Norwood after scoring what proved the winning goal.

Many more crucial goals like the one that helped return the Blades to the automatic promotion places and the 31-year-old will surely be regarded in the red and white half of the Steel City as being every bit as priceless as Messi and Ronaldo, who have dominated world football’s big prize in recent years.

McGoldrick, by scoring the winner against Preston North End, underlined why Wilder took just 138 minutes of pre-season action against Bradford City and Mansfield Town to offer a striker newly released by Ipswich Town a career lifeline last summer.

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The United manager’s faith has been repaid time and time again. This close-range effort at Deepdale was McGoldrick’s 13th goal of the campaign and continued his tendency to deliver when the Blades most need him.

He has scored in a dozen games this term and the Blades have won 11 of them. This latest strike was particularly timely.

Not only did it ensure Wilder’s side bounced back from defeat to Bristol City in their previous outing. But, thanks to Bramall Lane old boy Che Adams condemning Leeds United to defeat at Birmingham City, McGoldrick’s first-half effort was enough to wrestle back the initiative in what now appears to be a two-way Yorkshire scrap to join Norwich City in the Premier League.

“It has been a big turnaround for me,” the Irish international told The Yorkshire Post when asked about his struggles to find a club before signing a one-year deal at Bramall Lane.

“From being on trial last summer and not many teams wanting me to now and scoring goals.

“You have to have confidence in yourself as a player, but it was still hard. Probably the hardest point (of his career) was all the injuries I suffered.

“But when you are out of contract the phone is not ringing and no one is showing any interest, that is hard. I knew I had to stay positive.

“I felt I would get a club. I just felt things would have happened earlier. But that might have been a blessing because it allowed me to get the hunger back. I play with that hunger and determination now.”

McGoldrick’s career revival has also extended to the international stage. Recalled to the Republic squad last month for the first time since 2017 he provided both assists as Mick McCarthy’s second stint in charge started with back-to-back 1-0 wins over Gibraltar and Georgia.

After being afforded a standing ovation from the Dublin crowd when substituted late on in the second of those victories, McGoldrick returned to the Lane to some light-hearted joshing from Wilder.

“He has had a few jokes about that,” said the Nottingham-born striker, who qualifies for the Irish through his grandmother, with a smile.

“But it is all in good spirit. It was great to be back involved with my country – and to be scoring goals for Sheffield United.”

‘Noise and nonsense’ is how Wilder describes anything that happens away from the pitch during what seems certain to be a run-in that will go the distance.

Be it boastful talk from the opposition or crude attempts at mind games, the Blades’ squad have been ordered to rise above anything they hear.

United, though, cannot have failed to notice the huge roar from the 5,577 travelling fans that reverberated around Deepdale shortly after 3.30pm on Saturday, closely followed by the chant, ‘Leeds are falling apart again’.

Adams putting Birmingham ahead at St Andrews was the cause of the decibel levels being raised. The Blades players, as if taking their cue from the travelling hordes, followed suit by rousing themselves after what had been a sticky opening.

With Jack O’Connor ruled out through injury, Enda Stevens had been shifted into the back-three and midfielder Kieran Dowell was asked to play as a makeshift wing-back.

Preston, hoping to extend a run of just one defeat on home soil in 14 outings, seized upon Dowell’s unfamiliarity with the position and made hay down United’s left flank.

Sean Maguire and Alan Brown both had an early sight of goal after Lukas Nmecha had exposed the visitors’ frailty out wide.

Goalkeeper Dean Henderson also had to react quickly to block Nmecha’s cross with his feet before denying Callum Robinson with a fine save.

The Blades were struggling, but then came news of Adams’s goal at St Andrews. Within a minute or so United were ahead.

Declan Rudd turning John Egan’s header from a corner onto the crossbar rather than over it was all the invitation McGoldrick needed, the striker swooping to fire in from two yards out.

Once in front United were a much more cohesive unit. They could have had a second goal after the restart, Billy Sharp being denied by a fine save from Rudd and then Stevens blazing over when found unmarked in the penalty area.

But Preston, too, had plenty of promising moments in a hugely entertaining second half. Robinson wasted a glorious chance when played through by Nmecha, as did Paul Gallagher, the substitute sidefooting wide.

Jayden Stockley continued this profligacy in stoppage-time by heading wide from a corner to ensure McGoldrick had made another telling contribution to the promotion cause.