West Brom v Sheffield United – Ambition knows no bounds for striker Sharp and beloved Blades

STICKING AROUND: Sheffield United's striker Billy Sharp. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
STICKING AROUND: Sheffield United's striker Billy Sharp. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
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Sheffield United striker Billy Sharp will be 35 when his new deal expires but has no plans to hang up his boots.

That’s bad news for defences who have spent the last decade and a half trying to stop the poacher finding the back of the net.

But having signed a new two-year deal with his boyhood club – Sharp is in his third spell at Bramall Lane – the 33-year-old believes he is the best form of his career.

For a player who is the leading English league goalscorer this century – he recently bagged his 100th Blades goal – that is some claim.

And with just 13 games of the season remaining, Sharp hopes to be back plying his trade in the Premier League next season.

“I have got two more years after this to keep scoring goals for the club, keep trying to progress and be successful like we have been for the last two seasons I have been back at the club,” said Sharp, who leads the Blades to promotion rivals West Brom today.

It’s not to wind down and end my career. It’s to keep pushing as a captain and to be part of a very strong squad which we have. I am delighted to put pen to paper to be part of that.

Billy Sharp

“I feel strong and as fit as I have done in all my career. I feel as though as I am playing some good football and it’s helping I am playing in a good team, successful, and well drilled for two years by the gaffer and staff.

“I am enjoying every single minute of it, and at this moment, see myself going further than what my contract gives me. But we can cross that bridge when we come to it.

“It’s nice to able to have that security for myself and my family, but it’s not to wind down and end my career.

“It’s to keep pushing as a captain and to be part of a very strong squad which we have. I am delighted to put pen to paper to be part of that.”

United start the day in second spot, the Baggies are a point behind in fourth, but only three points separate the top four.

Sharp captained United to the League One title, before coming up short in their pursuit of the Championship play-offs last season.

But manager Chris Wilder has recruited well, and Sharp insists the Bramall Lane club are “not scared” of the promotion fight.

“In the last two-and-a-half years, as a club, we have been very successful,” said Sharp, who came through the ranks at United, before his career took him to the likes of Doncaster Rovers, Southampton, Nottingham Forest and Leeds United. “We might not have won anything last year, but I thought for the first season back in the Championship it was a very successful season.

“It gave us a target to beat this year, and at the minute it’s going really well. Hopefully that can continue. I am not scared to say it, we want promotion and we’d like it to be automatic promotion.

“If it can’t be that, the next best thing is try and do it through the play-offs. If we reach the play-offs then we have beaten the target from last year.

“If we are in the top two it would have been an unbelievable season. There is a lot of hard work to be done, but we have put ourselves in a good position with 13 games to go. We have all talked about it (promotion), we can’t be scared. We have put ourselves in this position, we have battled hard all season, and we are a confident group.

“We need to be together more than ever for the last 13 games as there will be ups and downs like we have had in the last couple of weeks. We are confident we are going to be in the mix with three or four games to go, and if we are, we are in with a right good chance.”

Wilder has some welcome selection choices to make today, with defensive trio Chris Basham, George Baldock and Jack O’Connell all available.

He must also decide whether to recall David McGoldrick and Sharp – the club’s top scorers – who were rested for the 4-0 win over Reading, when Gary Madine and Scott Hogan impressed in their place.

Like Sharp, Wilder is a fervent Blades fan, and the manager has been impressed with his captain this season.

“He just keeps improving,” said Wilder. “I think he recognises he has to look after himself, and he has done that.

“I don’t think he has shut the door on learning.

“I think he has become an all-round better player since we came to the club.

“His goalscoring ability, his movement in the box, is natural and he has always done that.

“But the other parts of the game, he recognises he has a job to do defensively, and going forward in terms of creating.”

Joining Sharp in committing his long-term future to United this week was defender Enda Stevens.

The 28-year-old Irishman – rated by Wilder as one of the best left wing-backs in the Championship – admits he “fell out of love with football” earlier in his career, before kick-starting his career at Portsmouth.

A move then beckoned to Bramall Lane, and Stevens – who had two loan spells at Doncaster Rovers – has adopted Sheffield as his new home after signing until 2022.

“I see it as a club that wants to go places and, thankfully, they want me to be here while that happens,” he said. “I think we’ve got a good thing going on and long may it continue.

“I think we’ve all improved. We’re not a team of superstars.”

Stevens struggled in his early career at Aston Villa – spending time on loan under Wilder at Northampton Town - and admits that period helped him adjust to life as a professional footballer.

“It was a stage in my career where it was a low,” he said. “Football is full of lows, there aren’t many highs. I wasn’t really a footballer then, I was stuck in a rut and didn’t really know what it meant to be a player.

“When I was there (at Northampton), the gaffer sat me down and gave me good advice about what I should do.

“You’ve got to prioritise it and fall in love with the game.

“I fell out of love with the game and it wasn’t until I went to Portsmouth that I fell back in love with it.”