He can thread a pass through the eye of the needle and find acres of space in a telephone box.
Mark Duffy is a footballer of many talents but the art of scoring goals is proving difficult for him to master. Despite, as Reading discovered on Tuesday evening, his magical right boot.
Alan Knill, Sheffield United’s assistant manager, agreed the 32-year-old should find the back of the net more after watching him nearly burst it at the Madejski Stadium. However, as Bramall Lane’s coaching staff search for ways to improve an already accomplished player, they are being careful not to weaken other areas of his game.
“It’s not for the lack of trying,” Knill says. “He does get into the right areas and we know, for Duff to get even better, he’s got to get more goals. Maybe that, all of a sudden, will make it happen. Sometimes, maybe, he needs to be more selfish. But he does so much for us, he knits the team together from the midfield to the forwards. So there’s a balance to be struck.”
Duffy’s effort against Reading was only his second of the season. Given the quality of the finish, it begs the question why he does not score more. Knill knows the midfielder better than most having previously worked with him at Scunthorpe and, based on that experience, is confident he has both the knowledge and intelligence to conjure an answer.
“I know Duff really well,” Knill admits. “He does study. He knows football. You’ll speak to him about football and he understands. He understands where space is. It’s not a fluke that he ends up in those little pockets. He know where it appears and how to find it. That’s a lovely gift, a lovely knack, to have.”
“Duff’s not a ‘10’ in the usual sense,” Knill continues. “He’s not central all the time. He tries to find little pockets of space and then, once he’s in there, it’s up to him to do his stuff.”
With captain Billy Sharp and fellow centre-forward Leon Clarke claiming a combined total of 28 goals so far this term, Knill is confident United have the firepower to cement a place in the Championship play-offs. They had been scheduled to face Duffy’s former club Burton Albion this weekend but, with adverse weather forcing the postponement of that fixture, will now return to action at fifth-placed Fulham on Tuesday.
“I thought the skipper was brilliant with the way he led to line,” Knill says after watching United climb to sixth. “Duff’s strike, we know he’s got that in his locker and hopefully that gives him the confidence to score even more, to do that more often.
“We’d love him to score 10 or 15 goals a season but, at the same time, he does other things. He creates more than anyone else in the league. So although we’re always looking to get better, he can’t do everything. We just want the players to get better, Assist-wise, he’s up there with the very best.”