Sheffield United manager Slavisa Jokanovic has singled out captain Billy Sharp for heavy praise after seeing him fire home a late penalty to win all three points against Derby County on Saturday afternoon, speaking post-match to the Sheffield Star.
After being frustrated by Rams centre-back duo Phil Jagielka and Curtis Davies for much of the weekend’s game at Bramall Lane, after finding himself in acres of space to nod home at Hull City in their previous league match.
However, something he was able to do against Wayne Rooney’s side that he wasn’t against Hull City was score a penalty, redeeming himself for his miss at the MKM Stadium and smashing the ball home from 12 yards to grab an 89th-minute winner for the Blades.
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Missing the latter stages of the previous campaign after undergoing surgery on a muscle injury, he fought hard during pre-season to be fit and ready for the beginning of the 2021/22 campaign, amid intense competition in the forward department.
Although he has been a reliable figure for the South Yorkshire side during his various spells at the club, the likes of £23.5m-man Rhian Brewster, Scottish international Oli McBurnie and the promising Lys Mousset will all be vying for his starting place throughout the season.
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But as he approaches his 36th birthday, he remains a more reliable figure than ever and Slavisa Jokanovic had nothing but good things to say about the veteran after the weekend victory against Derby.
“That is what the skipper is about – fighting. He (Sharp) missed his last penalty but he still says ‘I am here’,” Jokanovic said.
“Okay, Oliver Norwood who could take one wasn’t on the pitch at that moment. But it wouldn’t have mattered. Billy, the captain, he is a really positive example.
“All of my time here, Billy wants to show me and the team that he is important. That is a skipper’s attitude. That is what a captain, every player, should be doing.
“It is not just him. Others have done it at well. But I have been asked about Billy because he scored the penalty, and this is why I say what I say.”
To be able to slot away a crucial last-minute penalty after missing one just seven days before shows real courage and it’s something Jokanovic has rightly commended after managing to pick up this latest win.
These extra two points could be crucial at the end of the season after making a slow start to the campaign – and he’s one player who has definitely stepped up to the plate after such a poor campaign for the club as a whole last term.
David McGoldrick was the only Blades forward to step up to the plate during 2020/21, so to have Billy Sharp as an option with Lys Mousset’s injury during the first game of the campaign proving to be a blow has been crucial.
Many people even argued that despite their quality and depth in the forward department, they may have benefitted from another striker to shake things up.
The 35-year-old seems like a new signing though and after scoring 23 times in 40 appearances during the promotion-winning 2018/19 campaign, recording six goal contributions in nine league appearances so far this season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him play a key role in their potential return to the Premier League at the first time of asking.