Unwanted milestone for Sheffield United’s David McGoldrick but strikers can deliver more than just goals

During English football’s coronavirus lockdown, David McGoldrick quietly passed an unwanted milestone.

Chris Wilder is a big fan of Sheffield United striker David McGoldrick. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

It is now more than a year since Sheffield United’s centre-forward scored a league goal.

McGoldrick’s only strikes since Easter 2019 have come for the Republic of Ireland against Switzerland and in an FA Cup tie at Reading, yet he has started 16 Premier League matches, more than any other Blades attacker.

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Chris Wilder’s men have not got much wrong this season, and McGoldrick’s lack of goals has not stopped them competing for a first campaign in European football. The 32-year-old is one of a number of centre-forwards with Yorkshire clubs proving there is more to playing up front than just banging in goals.

McGoldrick brings so much more to his team in terms of his creativity and his workrate. It is a fine balance.

If McGoldrick’s selection has largely been unquestioned by Sheffield United fans who see his value and make sure he can hear how appreciated he is, the debate is fiercer at Leeds United, where Marcelo Bielsa’s stubborn insistence on selecting Patrick Bamford irrespective of whether the streaky striker is in a purple patch or a lean spell can divide terrace opinion.

Bielsa has always been a purist and a theorist with a very stubborn belief in his methods, and has argued until he is blue in the face this season that he picks Bamford as much for what he brings to the build-up play. Eddie Nketiah, on loan from Arsenal in the first half of the season, was a more accomplished finisher, but failed to convince his Argentinian coach he could match Bamford’s all-round contribution.

By January, Arsenal had lost patience, taking Nketiah off Leeds’s bench and putting him in their first team.

Fraizer Campbell is Danny Cowley’s undisputable first-choice centre-forward at Huddersfield Town despite only having scored twice this season, his last goal coming in November. Steve Mounie, with eight in his last 15 appearances, has been unable to displace him.

But Campbell’s style better suits the way Cowley was trying to play, particularly once he signed Arsenal youth products Emile Smith Rowe and Chris Willock on loan. The Terriers score fewer goals per game and pick up fewer points with targetman Mounie leading the line.

One look at the Championship table might tell you Huddersfield’s approach has not particularly worked, but it would have looked much better had it started when Cowley took charge in September.

Mounie is not the only goalscorer who has found it a struggle to establish himself. Injuries have played their part, but just over two thirds of Rotherham United’s record signing Freddie Ladapo’s appearances this summer have come from the bench.

With the Millers second in the table while Ladapo has chipped in 14 goals, manager Paul Warne’s approach has been justified.

But being able to have a centre-forward who does not punch his weight in the goalscoring charts relies on others doing the job.

Like Mounie, Tom Eaves and Josh Magennis are physical, old-fashioned No 9s, and their lack of goals was compensated for by the quality of their hold-up play when they had Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki joining from wide to pick up the goalscoring burden. Since the wingers left Hull City in the January transfer window, Eaves and Magennis’s goalscoring returns have become a much bigger issue and the Tigers have gone from play-off hopefuls to relegation candidates.

Take Steven Fletcher’s goals away from Sheffield Wednesday when he suffered illness over Christmas and an ankle injury after it, and the Owls’ fortunes plummeted too. They lack the midfield runners so prominent across the city where John Fleck and John Lundstram have been able to get on the end of McGoldrick’s good work.

Not only have Middlesbrough’s centre-forwards struggled for goals this season, all their players have. With only four having scored more than two league goals and none more than eight, they could really do with a goal-hungry striker.

McGoldrick can count himself lucky he is with a team where his talents are important, his weakness this season redeemable.

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