One promotion, 95 appearances and a phenomenal 56 goals.
Figures which should, when Billy Sharp returns to Scunthorpe, guarantee a hero’s reception. But, by his own admission, almost certainly won’t.
“I know how to score there,” Sharp told The Star earlier this week. “I think my record shows that. Hopefully I get lots of boos though. I probably will but it doesn’t bother me. It gets your emotions going and I like playing on the edge. Stuff like that just drives me on even more.”
Glanford Park, where Nigel Adkins’ side play their 22nd fixture of the season tomorrow, was good for the Sheffield United centre-forward. But, make no mistake, Sharp was good for Glanford Park. It was there where, having progressed through United’s youth system, he first realised the potential which would later be rewarded with transfers to the likes of Southampton, Nottingham Forest and Leeds. And it was also there where Sharp, despite being signed by Brian Laws, forged the close professional relationship with Adkins which, following his appointment as United manager during the close season, convinced Sharp to undertake a third spell at Bramall Lane.
Speaking soon after completing that £500,000 move from Elland Road, the 29-year-old admitted Adkins’ presence had influenced his decision to rejoin United after two previous false starts. The respect is mutual but, as Sharp discovered when he was named as a substitute for last weekend’s victory over Coventry City, preferential treatment is not guaranteed. Nevertheless, having been summoned from the bench during the closing stages, he was responsible for scoring the goal which delivered United’s first League One success since October.
“The gaffer left me out and maybe that was the right thing to do. He told me I wouldn’t be happy and, no, I wasn’t. But it’s all part and parcel of football. He told me to make and impact when I came on and I think I did that so, fingers crossed, that serves as a little reminder for him.”
Sharp’s return to form - Sunday’s effort was his first in nine outings - is especially timely given United’s indifferent start to the new campaign. Despite winning four of their first five games under Adkins’ tutelage, they travel to north Lincolnshire ranked 11th after losing six of their next 16. A sequence which Sharp, until City were dispatched in slightly fortuitous fashion, had gnawed away at self-belief behind the scenes.
“I’ve not been getting the rub of the green lately but I got it last time out, yes. Hopefully that’s a sign that I’m going to get a run together,” Sharp said. “I don’t like not scoring but it didn’t bother me too much. I know that’s what I do, go on runs. I always get spells where I score plenty, then don’t, then score again.”
“The harder you work, the luckier you get,” Sharp continued. “They had a goal disallowed which probably should have stood and then one goes in off my shoulder. But we’ll take that all day long. Afterwards, it was a mixture of relief and joy in the dressing room. Winning breeds confidence and, admittedly, that’s been lacking a little bit of late. But it goes to show what can happen if you stick together and do everything you can out there and in training too.”
The contest against City, previously unbeaten in 11 league matches, was a learning curve for United in tactical terms too as Adkins, wary of the opposition’s attacking prowess, sacrificed his attacking principles in favour of a more pragmatic approach.
“Coventry play some nice football but we can take plenty from that game,” Sharp said. “There was a lesson there for us in terms of how we set-up. A lesson to play the game instead of always thinking that we have to score early. Yes, it’s nice to do that but, sometimes, you’ve just got to stay in the match and nick it. That game was definitely a learning curve for us. If we can get a run going and, come the turn of the year be in or around the top six, then we can get a real challenge going. No danger about that.”
Sharp has been on a remarkable journey since netting Scunthorpe a 20 fold return on the investment in 2007. Back at United, but bizarrely failing to convince either Bryan Robson or his predecessor Kevin Blackwell, he impressed for Doncaster Rovers before resurrecting his partnership with Adkins at St Mary’s and delivering top-flight football to the south coast. They worked together again when Adkins signed Sharp on loan for Reading before Leeds being acquired by Leeds.
Scunthorpe might be where it started for Sharp. But United, after dedicating their result against City to former goalkeeper Alan Hodgkinson and photographer Martyn Harrison who passed away earlier this month, is where he belongs.
“There was a celebratory atmosphere last weekend but also condolences to be paid as well,” Sharp, whose wife gave birth before the game, said. “We said goodbye to two great people and so that’s another reason why it was nice to get the win. I took my armband off and gave it a kiss after scoring. Hodgy is a legend here and he was my goalkeeping coach at Rushden and Diamonds when I went on loan there earlier in my career. Everyone knew Baldy (Harrison) too. He was a top bloke as well who used to sit in the dug-out after games and show us all the pictures he’s taken on his laptop.”