MANAGER Chris Wilder has backed Leon Clarke to play a key part in Sheffield United’s promotion push this season.
The former Sheffield Wednesday striker has netted just once in League One this term since arriving from Bury in the summer. Two further goals have come in cup competitions.
But the forward helped United win a tough Boxing Day encounter with Rochdale, his introduction as a second-half substitute for Matt Done proving a decisive moment.
The 31-year-old’s physical power allowed fellow striker Billy Sharp more space and United’s captain pounced to score twice.
Clarke also had two good chances to score, but saw his header cleared off the line by Brian Wilson before blasting over the crossbar.
Wilder has four strikers at his disposal in Sharp, Done, Clarke and Caolan Lavery, and says they all have a part to play.
“There is a lot of nonsense spoken that Leon and Billy can’t play together,” said Wilder. “For me, it’s absolute garbage.
“All four of them can do a job and it’s up to me to pick the right ones.
“It’s important that these boys make an impact when they come on and Leon did that.
“Of course him and Billy can play together. They’re both good players.
“People will look at Leon and say he hasn’t scored, but he was key in that win.”
Today, Wilder faces Northampton Town for the first time since leading the Cobblers to promotion from League Two before joining his boyhood club in the summer.
There will be a familiar face in the opposition dug-out, too, in the shape of former Blades defender Rob Page.
“I had three great years at Sheffield United and it’s a club I have got a lot of time for, but once the whistle goes all that goes out the window,” said Page.
“I know Chris Wilder really well and what Chris and (assistant manager) Alan Knill did for this football club through some troubled times was unbelievable and they deserve an enormous amount of credit for that.”
Northampton are mid-table, but they beat Oxford United on Boxing Day after back-to-back defeats against Stourbridge, in the FA Cup, and Rochdale.
Page said: “It was important we had a reaction on Monday. The players have worked really hard over Christmas.
“We need to build on that and we are going to give it a real go on Saturday.”