Sheffield United 4 Wigan Athletic 2: It’s well worth the wait as Billy Sharp’s hat-trick sends Blades to the top

Hero: Billy Sharp celebrates scoring against Wigan..
Hero: Billy Sharp celebrates scoring against Wigan..
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The most surprising thing to emerge from Saturday was not that Sheffield United ended the day as Championship leaders.

But the fact that Blades captain Billy Sharp – a striker who has netted over 200 goals in his career – ended a 10-year wait for a hat-trick.

The 32-year-old has made a career out of being a goal-poacher at the likes of Scunthorpe United, Doncaster Rovers, Nottingham Forest and Leeds United, but before Saturday’s 4-2 win over Wigan, Sharp’s last hat-trick came in 2008 for the Blades against Queens Park Rangers.

“QPR here when I was 22, that was my last hat-trick, in 2008,” Sharp told The Yorkshire Post after his three goals secured the win that took the Blades back to the Championship summit. “I’ve had a few chances since, a few braces, but fortunately I got it out there.

“The win is the most important thing, the hat-trick was a bonus.”

Since 2008, Sharp has played for five different clubs, but he is now back as leader of the pack at his home-town club in their pursuit of Premier League football.

After taking his goals tally to 11 in 14 appearances – before the end of October – Sharp is the embodiment of this hard-working Blades team.

They had to graft in the opening 45 minutes and struggled to impose themselves on Wigan. Goalkeeper Dean Henderson first plucked Nick Powell’s header away from danger before tipping over Gary Roberts’s free-kick, and Chey Dunkley headed over.

The Wigan defender did net though, in front of the Kop, when a quick throw-in set Chris Basham free and Dunkley diverted the ball into his own net.

But even that slice of good fortune failed to settle United, who found themselves back level when Nathan Byrne’s cross picked out substitute Kai Naismith at the back post and he tucked away the equaliser.

Enter Sharp. The poacher pounced on Richard Stearman’s header – after Ollie Norwood’s free-kick – to put United 2-1 up at half-time.

Leon Clarke – playing alongside Sharp, with David McGoldrick replacing the injured Mark Duffy in the No 10 role – was picked out by the impressive Norwood, and the striker’s inch-perfect cross was finished off by the Blades captain.

When Norwood’s pass – the “pass of the season” drooled Blades chief Chris Wilder – set Enda Stevens free, the wing-back caused confusion in Wigan’s rearguard, allowing Sharp to nip in and dink the ball over goalkeeper Christian Walton.

“Massive praise to Leon for my second one, he had a lot to do on his so-called weaker foot,” said Sharp. “He whipped a great cross in and I knew I had to make a good connection which, fortunately, I did. I thought Leon was brilliant out there again.

“We knew they were going to come and give it a go. We’ve seen teams come here, sit back and try to shut us out before nicking it 1-0. They weren’t like that.

“We’ve talked about raising the bar and our standards on the pitch. We weren’t at our best but we got the three points so that’s good. But we’re trying to compete at the top end and so we’ve got to be at our best every week.”

Wigan certainly never stopped trying. and Joe Garner hooked in to make it 4-2, and Henderson had to be alert to tip over Reece James’s free-kick.

Blades defender Jack O’Connell saw his header smash against the crossbar, and Henderson snuffed out chances from Naismith and Garner.

A hat-trick was the perfect response from Sharp, after Wilder dropped his captain for the midweek 1-1 draw with Stoke City.

The captain revealed he may have sulked in his younger days at being left out, but at 32 is now the elder statesman in this Blades team.

Sharp explained: “The gaffer pulled me and told me I was coming back in for this one.

“A few years ago I might have sulked. When I was younger, I’d have been frustrated. But I’m captain of the club and I’ve got to set an example.

“So the main thing for me is supporting the team. If I’m not scoring goals, I want to be doing other things for the team and for the club.

“We’ve got great togetherness in the changing room. The staff work hard on it but, as a group, it comes naturally to us.

“They’re an easy group to captain. We’re all decent people and we’re all ready to work hard for each other. It’s not about individuals. People talk about ‘us’ not ‘me’.

“We’ve got a big squad. There are some very good players who can’t even get on the bench.

“But that’s why standards are so high, because they are pushing and making sure the lads who are in there are okay.”

Defender Basham will miss Saturday’s trip to Nottingham Forest as he serves a one-game suspension after picking up his fifth booking of the season.

Sheffield United: Henderson, Stevens, Fleck, O’Connell, Basham, Clarke, Sharp (Washington 88), Norwood, McGoldrick (Coutts 61), Freeman, Stearman. Unused substitutes: Baldock, Woodburn, Johnson, Moore, Cranie.

Wigan: Walton, Byrne, Robinson, Morsy, Windass, James, Roberts (Naismith 36) Dunkley, Powell (McManaman 67), Connolly (Garner 58), Burn. Unused substitutes: Vaughan, Lopes, Kipre, Jones.

Referee: T Harrington (Cleveland).