DAVID McGOLDRICK is very much on the shortlist for Sheffield United’s Player of the Season in what has been a fabulous time for the striker who began his Lane career last summer on a trial.
Ironic, too, that his 15 goals and all round contribution which have played a major part in putting the Blades on the brink of promotion to the Premier League, should come when three points against the club that released him just a few months ago will see the job done.
A poll ran by the East Anglian Daily Times amongst fans of Ipswich Town, this evening’s visitors to Bramall Lane, revealed that 87 per cent believed that then manager, Sheffield-born Paul Hurst was right to jettison McGoldrick.
Hurst, sacked in October after just four months in charge, couldn’t have been more wrong. How the Tractor Boys, relegated to the third tier of English football a fortnight ago for the first time since 1957, must covet the thought of his goal-scoring exploits at the Lane now.
To be fair, the 31-year-old who recently won an international recall for the Republic of Ireland, scored 16 goals in his first season with Championship Ipswich and had an £8million bid from Premier League Leicester City rejected, freely admits he wasn’t enjoying the best of times at Portman Road before Blades boss Chris Wilder came calling. “I had a lot of injuries and wasn't the player I was when I first came into the squad,” he said.
“I did a back-heel in training, tore my hamstring and was out for four months. I jumped up in the air to control the ball and tore my groin and was out for three months.
“I landed on my knee, studs went and popped my knee when I landed on it. I was out for six weeks. You can't do anything about that. I was playing with injuries when I shouldn't because I couldn't get fit. Arising from that was a loss of form and your confidence goes.”
Wilder’s uncanny knack of spotting latent talent proved otherwise. He did the same with another under-performing striker, Leon Clarke. Now 34, he enjoyed arguably the best season of his much-travelled career in the last campaign, top scoring with 19 goals.
McGoldrick was given a short-term deal after proving his worth. By January he had exceeded all expectations to earn himself a new contract tying him to the club until the summer of 2021.
Wilder said at the time: “Didz’s goals have been vital but his general contribution, including excellent link-up play, has been fantastic. He has made a vital contribution to the club on and off the field and we are delighted to reward him.”
It is a mark of Wilder’s ability to pluck players from relative obscurity and mould them into ones that won the League One title in his first season, accumulating 100 points. Now, in his third campaign, largely the same group this evening have the opportunity of returning United to the Premier League after a 12-year absence.
It is also testament to Wilder and No2 Alan Knill that McGoldrick is just one of many in the squad who could equally put their names forward and win the Player of the Year accolade. Such is the balance and consistency across the side.
McGoldrick had his injury problems at Ipswich which led to their fans’ disapproval in the newspaper poll, but he remained respected in the dressing room. “Everyone knows how highly we all rated him here at this football club, not just as a player but as a person,” said goalkeeper Dean Gerken.
“He's such a talent. At the moment he looks fitter than he ever has and is running around more than he ever has. His footballing ability has never been in question. He's unbelievable. When David McGoldrick is fit there's not many better in the Championship.
“I’m not sure whose decision it was to let Dave go. He was obviously in a bad situation being injured at the end of his contract. As players we were disappointed because of how highly we all regard him.”
That view is similarly reflected in the Blades dressing room. Even manager Wilder does not try to disguise his admiration. So much so that McGoldrick has become a first choice striker alongside skipper and 24-goal top scorer Billy Sharp.
But the striker, a huge favourite with Blades fans, remains characteristically modest. “The fans have been brilliant and were right behind us again,” was all McGoldrick would say after scoring two of United’s three goals at Hull City on Easter Monday. “It does make a difference when you are out there.”
It remains to be seen this evening if Sharp, who has missed the last two matches due to a hamstring injury, will be fit enough to play a part in the chance secure the Blades a top flight return.
Not in doubt, however, is that the player who arrived at no cost last summer and earned the right to play an invaluable part, will this evening be at the forefront of trying to deliver a £190m dream ticket in front of a packed house.