James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: No panic in centre-forward search

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“When are we going to sign a striker?”

That, so detailed research of recent email traffic to Star Towers reveals, is the question on most Sheffield United supporters lips.

(Okay, it was a straw poll of opinion. Which, if the methodology behind the FA commission’s investigation into how young domestic talent can best be improved, passes for scientific analysis).

The first answer, without wishing to sound sarcastic, is the moment Bramall Lane’s hierarchy reach agreement with a target of Nigel Clough’s choosing. But, seeing as I’m not, it’s worth reminding folk that next season’s League One opener against Bristol City is still 36 days away and that there are 59 of the transfer window remaining. Better, as doubtless everyone will concur, to wait for the right option to become available than become a hostage to appearance and PR.

The second, of course, is that United have already recruited a centre-forward. Marc McNulty arrives in South Yorkshire looking to further enhance the reputation he built over the course of 58 months at Livingston.

With his former team mate Stefan Scougall having taken the same path out of West Lothian six months ago, Clough clearly believes they can resurrect a partnership which produced 47 goals and numerous assists.

But, with United expected to be celebrating promotion come May, the vacancy for an experienced, prolific frontman, remains. Especially as Chris Porter, who has signed a new contract, has a tendency to be commanding one moment and ineffective the next. (Achieving a degree of consistency must top of his personal ‘to do’ list next term because, if he can, then Porter possesses the tools to become a powerful weapon).

United, so I’m led to believe, are prepared to pay good money for the right man. Showing patience is the best way to ensure it is spent correctly.

Fresh avenues worthy of exploration are certain to emerge as the first weekend of the 2014/15 campaign edges closer. Seemingly insignificant bits of business conducted elsewhere will, as Clough acknowledged during a recent media briefing, thrust players previously regarded as indisposable by their respective clubs on to the open market. Knowledge is power.

Barnsley’s Chris O’Grady remains a person of interest but United, despite keeping their cards close to their chest, are also known to be pursuing several other opportunities.

As Clough’s predecessor Neil Warnock once told me, it is possible to recruit top-drawer goalkeepers on the cheap. Likewise, albeit to a lesser extent, defenders and midfielders.

But, because goals equal headlines, accomplished attackers are much tougher to secure and usually come at a price.

United, it is worth remembering, won 48 per cent of their league fixtures following Clough’s appointment. A sequence which lifted them from 21st to seventh in the table and, had the season started when his appointment was announced, would have been enough to secure fifth place.

The point being, they are not building a team from scratch. So Clough must be certain the next striker he acquires, like McNulty, is not only capable of finding the back of the net on a regular basis but also complimenting those players already at their disposal.

Every transfer carries an element of risk. But adopting a thorough approach, taking character and calibre into account, reduces the odds of making a duff call.

Which, having made lots of expensive mistakes in the past, United fortunately seem intent on doing this time around. No more acting in haste and repenting at leisure.

*Twitter: @JamesShield1