James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Confessions of a football manager

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A few years ago, one of Nigel Clough’s predecessors confided in me.

“I’ve identified top class defenders and midfielders but,” he sighed during our off-the-record natter, “Most strikers I sign turn-out to be s**t.”

It’s a conversation which has often sprung to mind as Sheffield United tried and, until Chris O’Grady’s arrival, failed to bolster their attacking options during the emergency loan window. However, on reflection, the manager in question was actually mistaken.

His judgement of players wasn’t at fault. It doesn’t take Pep Guardiola to know that Sergio Aguero and Diego Costa are pretty handy because, unlike completing tackles or passes, you don’t score goals on the quiet.

Back then, United’s recruitment budget was the problem. Now, when it comes to borrowing a prolific centre-forward, their third tier status is the biggest hurdle to overcome.

Players who have been hitting the target on a regular basis will never be allowed to depart their parent clubs at pivotal stages of the season. The rare exceptions that can are usually employed by top-flight teams with the resources to stockpile talent.

Unfortunately, if you are used to facing Chelsea then the prospect of lining-up against Crewe is about as welcome as Gary Megson at a boozy gathering of ardent Blades. In any case, despite the self-flagellation en vogue among some sections of the social media commentariat, was United’s need for a new striker really so acute?

Well, they could definitely improve their returns in the final third. But Marc McNulty and Michael Higdon, who could both return from injury against Notts County this evening, have either hit the target on a regular basis for United or done so on more prestigious stages than Bramall Lane.

One or both though, unless O’Grady’s move becomes permanent, need to feature regularly to prove their worth. But with Clough favouring a lone frontman, perhaps, as the aforementioned manager demonstrated, the real issue is being masked?

Understandably, he wants to accommodate Stefan Scougall and Jose Baxter in his starting eleven. However, with the latter capable of playing in a deep lying role, choosing one might create a path for McNulty or Higdon to shine.

*Twitter: @JamesShield1