Sheffield United: ‘There’s more to Billy Sharp than goals’

Billy Sharp’s hunger to keep scoring Sheffield United goals is fuelling him in his current purple patch but like so much of the Blades’ current success, it is also a product of work on the training ground.

Whatever the topic as assistant manager Stuart McCall looked ahead to the short Championship trip to Huddersfield Town, he kept coming back to training.

Getting intensity in practice sessions has been one of Paul Heckingbottom’s big things since taking over as manager in November and the result has been seven wins and a draw from nine league matches. Veteran centre-forward Sharp has benefited to the tune of five goals in as many matches.

“You think of Billy Sharp, you think of goals, but there’s more to him than that,” says McCall, who was 40 when he played his last professional game. “I think of Fulham away, his work-rate, the amount of ground he covered.

Sheffield United's Billy Sharp. Picture: Isaac Parkin / Sportimage

“He works so hard in training, he looks after himself and he’s in a rich vein of goalscoring form but he adds other things too.

“Once you lose your hunger and your desire to get out of bed that’s it. He’s 36 but there’s more years in him left, his body’s in good nick, he’s mentally and physically strong. He might not always be a first pick but he’s got a hunger to keep playing and scoring goals and long may it continue.”

But there are two sides to Heckingbottom’s demands for players giving their all in training, and McCall was quick to point out George Baldock’s midweek recall owed much to his performances at Shirecliffe. With such a congested fixture list, though, a balance has to be struck.

“With the intensity side of it, I think we’ve got to a level now where we’d like them but now we’ve got lots of games so we’ve got to be careful on that,” he acknowledges.

“It’s not giving players a game because, you know what, they haven’t played for a while, it’s meriting it and looking after the players in the group who’ve played a lot of football and if you keep pushing them, they’ll break.

“I know supporters sometimes don’t see that side of it and say, ‘There’s another four changes, what’s going on?’ but believe you me, it’s not done willy-nilly, there’s science behind it.

“It’s a balancing act and you don’t always get it right. Against West Brom they started well and we were a couple of minutes away from tweaking the system when we got a goal and they got a man sent off.”