Sheffield United a facing a striker conundrum - plenty on the books - but not many match fit

Sheffield United have started the new Championship season in the bizarre position of having lots of forwards and yet not enough.

Starting role: Sheffield United forward Iliman Ndiaye (right) played in the 1-0 defeat at Watford. Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire.
Starting role: Sheffield United forward Iliman Ndiaye (right) played in the 1-0 defeat at Watford. Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire.

Sheffield United have started the new Championship season in the bizarre position of having lots of forwards and yet not enough.

Even after releasing David McGoldrick and Lys Mousset, and selling Oliver Burke, they still have Iliman Ndiaye, outstanding at the end of last season, record signing Rhian Brewster, Scotland international Oli McBurnie and club captain Billy Sharp. At Championship level, it should be a formidable quartet.

Yet with only Ndiaye 100 per cent fit for Monday’s opening-night defeat at Watford, 19-year-old Daniel Jebbison - who last term dropped behind fellow teenager Will Osula in the pecking order - was handed only his fifth league start for the club, and did a good job leading the line.

Waiting game: Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom has plenty of options up front - when they return to full fitness. Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire.

When he was withdrawn after 69 minutes Reda Khadra, signed as a No 10, initially partnered Brewster up front.

With United hopeful of signing Manchester City playmaker James McAtee, it is clear manager Paul Heckingbottom wants more firepower, whether that be from outside or getting more from what he already has.

Brewster and Sharp were only deemed fit enough for the bench, with McBurnie expected back in training next week after injury cut short his 2021-22.

“The talent’s there but we want the competition and the ability from the bench to compete,” argued Heckingbottom. “We’ll give them every opportunity to perform on the pitch for us, then it’s up to them.

“We need them all fit. Bill’s coming back now (but) he’s undercooked - he’s only played 20 minutes, Reda’s only played 20, Oli’s not been back on the training pitch yet, Rhian’s recovering.

“We just need to keep working with them, getting them fitter. We’ll provide game-time behind closed doors and lots of training because you can see we need it.”

Jebbison looked a better player than the one unable to grasp his chance after returning from a loan at Burton Albion for the second half of last season.

“He’s done well in pre-season and got himself fit, really strong,” reflected Heckingbottom.

“His role on Monday was to do the legwork, to be that foil for Iliman. We thought we’d get more chances as the game opened up. I did fancy Rhian to get a goal but he didn’t get a chance.

“I can’t fault the determination and the workrate of the players but putting all that attacking quality on we didn’t put enough deliveries in the box and risk possession enough in the final third.”

Heckingbottom claimed to be unaware of whether McAtee was close to signing, arguing that was in other’s hands, but is well versed in his qualities.

“He’s someone I have seen play, whether it’s been moments for City or for England (youth teams),” he said. “He handles the ball fantastically, he has good quality on the ball. That’s why he’s at Man City.”