JUST how Billy Sharp, 33 next month, has managed to make only two Premier League appearances in a goal-laden professional career spanning 14-and-a-half years, beggars belief.
The modest and popular striker’s latest strike in Sheffield United’s New Year Day’s 3-0 win at Wigan Athletic confirmed that no-one has scored more in English league football (220) since the turn of the century. Surpassing former Southampton teammate Rickie Lambert’s 219 and 12 more than ex- England and Manchester United icon Wayne Rooney.
Such is the unfashionable status of the Blades in national media circles, the event came and went with minimal comment which comes as little surprise. Neither does Sharp’s ability in front of goal to regulars at Bramall Lane. He’s had his critics, albeit a small minority, during occasional dry spells since returning to the Lane for a third time in the summer of 2015.
Since then he has netted 80 league goals, 82 in total, finished top scorer in two of the last three seasons with 21 and 30 respectively. Last season he bagged 14 behind Leon Clarke (19). Now having just passed the halfway stage of the campaign he is the Championship’s joint top scorer with 16 alongside Aston Villa’s Tammy Abraham and has 17 in total.
Astonishingly, but thankfully for United, the Sheffield-born lifelong Blades fan has remained off the radar for ambitious clubs in search of the Holy Grail, a proven goalscorer. “I’ve just got to keep scoring goals and hopefully help Sheffield United get promoted,” said Sharp. “If I could have played for Sheffield United all of my career then I would have loved to. But it wasn’t to be.
“I’ve come back at a good time in my career. I was fit, hungry and had something to prove. Obviously when I was younger it didn’t go quite to plan. I’m enjoying every single minute that I’m playing.
“If I keep scoring goals and Didzy (David McGoldrick) keeps scoring goals, we keep playing well and winning like we are doing, then there is no reason why we can’t do something this season.”
Sharp turned professional with United but was later sold to Nigel Adkins’ Scunthorpe United for £100,000 where he scored 56 goals in two golden seasons before the Blades bought him back for £1million.
Thirty-six appearances later reaped only six goals in 2007-08 but a hat-trick at the Bramall Lane in the Championship against QPR in the first home match of the following season, sparked renewed hope that Sharp was rediscovering the form that had made him such a favourite at The Iron.
It wasn’t to be. He again finished in single figures and was first loaned then sold to Doncaster Rovers for £1.1m where, frustratingly for Blades fans, he prospered again, earning a £1.8m move to rejoin Adkins, now at Southampton. A club that accelerated from League One to the top flight in two seasons.
It was that record which prompted then League One United to replace Nigel Clough with Adkins who promptly signed Sharp again, this time from Leeds. The only worthwhile legacy of his shambolic season in charge.
Now United’s club captain is focussed on realising a boyhood dream. “I’ve always wanted to be a Premier League player,” he said. “I’ve had a couple of appearances there [both as a substitute for Southampton]. That would be a dream, to get promoted with Sheffield United and to take us to the Premier League.
“It would be some story.”