Sheffield United v Rochdale: New strike partnership to sharpen up in Blades cause

Billy Sharp goes close under pressure. (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)
Billy Sharp goes close under pressure. (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)
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Sheffield United striker Billy Sharp is excited at the partnership he is forging with summer signing Leon Clarke.

The Blades may have lost 1-0 at Bolton Wanderers on the opening day of the League One campaign, before a surprise exit to League Two side Crewe in the League Cup.

But one of the positives new manager Chris Wilder can take from the opening week is the new-look Blades attack.

Self-confessed Blades fan Sharp and Clarke – the 31-year-old former Sheffield Wednesday player – may not look like obvious bedfellows, but the pair have shown early-season promise.

Both will feel aggrieved they have just one goal between them from the opening two games – Clarke netted on his Bramall Lane debut against Crewe – but that was not down to lack of chances.

Today, United launch their home league fixtures with the visit of Rochdale, and 30-year-old Sharp is eager to make amends.

“The first game (Bolton) was a disappointment, regards the result, but I thought the performance was really good,” he said. “We can take a lot of positives from that.

“Tuesday night, again I thought we created a lot of chances, could have put the game to bed in the first half, but we didn’t.

“In the second half, too, we had a lot of good chances, but I thought we took our foot off the gas and didn’t punish them.

“They deserved to get back in the game, we were two minutes away from going through. But in extra-time, they wanted it more.

“We should have put our chances away. We had enough chances to win two games, never mind one.

“There’s nothing we can do about that now, we just have to work hard in training and get ready for Saturday.”

Sharp netted 21 times last term, Clarke scoring 18 with Bury, and that kind of goals return this season should put the Blades in the race for promotion.

“We are creating a lot of chances,” said Sharp. “I should have scored, Leon could have had two or three, we both know that. It’s good that we are getting chances.

“We have had two losses, though, that’s the main thing. The wins are the thing we want, that breeds confidence and belief.

“We need to be mentally and physically strong, and need to win games. You have to take your chances at one end and keep them out at the other.

“Leon got off the mark (on Tuesday), his first goal of the season, and the first for your new club is always the hardest.

“I had a couple of half-chances which I was disappointed I didn’t put away.

“As a team, we are creating chances, (Mark) Duffy’s hit the bar, (John) Fleck has hit the bar, Clarke’s had one offside, so we are creating opportunities.

“We have put the ball in the net and we are trying things but we just need to be a bit sharper in front of goal – be braver, and mentally strong, to keep the ball out.”

As well as Sharp and Clarke, Wilder has attacking options with the likes of Matt Done and Marc McNulty.

After watching both the Bolton and Crewe games again, the United chief cannot believe his side only scored once after creating numerous chances.

“Historically, if you look at Billy, Leon, Matt Done, Marc McNulty and also Dominic (Calvert-Lewin), we’ve got goals in us,” said Wilder.

“For us to score only one in both our games so far is quite ‘outstanding’ because you would have expected, with the amount of play we’ve had and the chances we’ve had, to get more.

“If you’d watched the DVDs, stopped them at a particular point and said ‘You’re only going to score one goal from two’ well, people would think you were mad. But the fact is, that’s what’s happened.”

Inheriting a side which failed to reach the play-offs under Nigel Adkins, Wilder knows it will take time to mould the Blades into the team he wants.

But Sharp believes there are positives to take.

“What the gaffer wants us to do is simple, he has made it clear,” he said. “I think he will be pleased with both first-halfs of the games, but we need to turn that into 90 minutes.

“Rochdale will be a big game, it’s in front of our own fans, the first league game of the season (at Bramall Lane) after a disappointing away defeat at Bolton.

“I turn up at Bramall Lane and I think ‘it’s fantastic, I can’t wait to play’. We all have to think that.”

The Blades yesterday bolstered their squad with the loan signing of Middlesbrough winger Harry Chapman – the 18-year-old was on loan at Barnsley last season.