Billy Sharp and the 100 Club
After his point-gaining penalty against Fulham, club captain Sharp is just one shy of joining the prestigious group of Blades strikers to have become league Centurions, says Brendan Moffett
When Keith Edwards notched his 100th league goal for the Blades back in October 1984, few would have believed that it would be another 36 years before a Blades striker would be on the brink of this great milestone. Edwards is still hailed as a God-like figure for all those Blades fans who travelled far and wide to some of the country’s remotest clubs in the lower reaches to see very modest Blades teams get bailed out by the Stockton-born sharp shooter.
Emerging in the 1976/77 season with a late flurry to take him to 18 League goals, Edwards never quite pushed on in his first spell at the club, ultimately being sacrificed by Harry Haslam in 1978 for more fashionable signings such as Steve Finnieston and Peter Anderson. The Blades struggled without a prolific striker and despite the best efforts of veteran Bob Hatton, sadly ended up in the fourth tier by 1981. Incoming manager Ian Porterfield knew he needed more goals in the side and the £100k fee to bring Edwards back from Hull City in September 1981 proved to be a masterstroke. He went on to hit 33 League goals that season as the Blades secured the title, repeating this haul in 1983/84. In October 1984 he joined an elite group of Blades players to hit 100 league goals. In total Edwards scored 143 league goals in 261 appearances, a remarkable ratio of more than 1 in 2.
It wasn’t until 1988/89 that another striker emerged whose prolific achievements would get close to this milestone. When Brian Deane was signed from Doncaster Rovers for £30,000 in the summer of 1988, his goal record was modest and many Blades fans weren’t sure if the slim youngster from Leeds was what we needed in the rough and tumble of the old third division. An opening day goal at Reading, followed by a first home hat-trick against Chester in the Autumn showed that he could become a regular scorer. His consistency carried on throughout his first spell at the club, top scorer each season and making the step up through the divisions to score regularly in the first division and Premiership. Inevitably after hitting 84 goals in 199 league games, he was sold for £3m to bitter rivals Leeds United in 1993.
Despite the attraction of playing for his home town club, he never reached the same level he achieved at the Lane and returned to the Blades in 1997/98 as part of an exciting new line up under Nigel Spackman. His return was sadly short-lived as financial pressures led to his departure to Benfica for £1m in January 1998 on the same day strike partner Jan Åge Fjørtoft was controversially sold to Barnsley. The Blades had been well positioned for a Premier return, Deane having hit 11 goals in just 24 games.
In December 2005, after a short spell in Australia, Neil Warnock – never one to shy away from signing an extra striker – brought Deane back for his third spell at the club. The Blades were in the midst of a promotion assault and with an array of striking talent, opportunities were few and far between for the veteran who was carrying a knock and struggling for fitness. He did however make 2 final appearances as a substitute, most notably the final home game against Crystal Palace, where he received a rapturous welcome and almost scored. His final league stats for the Blades were 95 goals in 223 starts – an impressive goal every 2.3 games.
This brings us to a certain Billy Sharp. The Blades talisman, like Deane, has had 3 spells at the Lane. After struggling to break through as a young player and making only 2 sub appearances, he was sold to Scunthorpe for £100k in 2005. After prolific spells at Scunthorpe and Doncaster, he was re-signed by Bryan Robson for £2m in July 2007. Unfortunately a combination of Robson and later Kevin Blackwell failed to play to his strengths and he registered just 8 goals in 38 starts and was often used as a sub. His most recent history is well known to all of us. Hitting 21 league goals in his first season back in a very poor Nigel Adkins side showed he still had the magic touch and his pivotal role in the Wilder revolution has taken his tally in his third spell to 91 league goals.
After the penalty against Fulham, Billy now stands on 99 league goals from 197 starts. The squad system of the modern game has also resulted in 34 sub appearances, but he’s essentially a 1 in 2 man. We all hope he can get the chance to complete his ton in the coming weeks, despite his game time becoming increasingly limited. It will certainly be a remarkable achievement for a player who must have thought on a couple of occasions that his chances of becoming a Blades legend had eluded him.