Goals will probably swing the voting in Billy Sharp’s favour but John Fleck is building a compelling case to be named Sheffield United’s player of the year.
The former Scotland under-21 international, whose strike against Coventry City in midweek helped edge Chris Wilder’s side to within touching distance of the Championship, has already been included on the EFL’s divisional shortlist following a series of scintillating displays for the League One leaders this term.
Nevertheless, despite commanding the respect of his peers, Fleck has been told his game still boasts a glaring imperfection which must be addressed before he becomes the complete midfielder.
“We ask the lads to get forward and, for me, Flecky and Couttsy (Paul Coutts) should score more,” Wilder, the United manager, said. “They do a great job of helping us build from the back and protecting things but, when they do get into the right positions, they should take more chances because they are so strong technically.”
Wilder’s decision to highlight the most obvious weakness in Fleck’s armoury should not be interpreted as a criticism. Rather, he is merely trying to ensure the 25-year-old fulfils his potential. Indeed, Wilder’s admiration for Fleck’s talents was underlined on Tuesday when, after watching United move 13 points clear of third place with only five matches remaining, he broke one of his golden rules: Never praise individual players. Sharp, who together with Scunthorpe’s Josh Morris completes the EFL’s three man shortlist, is one of the few squad members to also receive this honour.
“He’s been voted as one of the EFL top three players,” Wilder continued. “Every team that you come up against, they will always talk about John. Other players will always talk about John and, in that dressing room, his own team mates think a lot of him too.”
“He’s a nice lad but sometimes, in training, we are having to reign him in because he is absolutely full tilt everytime he steps into the building,” Wilder added. “Be it at Shirecliffe, Bramall Lane or an away ground.”
Fleck, Sharp and Coutts are all expected to feature at Northampton Town tomorrow where United know a win will guarantee promotion, regardless of Fleetwood’s result against Oldham.
“It’s in our own hands and we couldn’t ask for anything more,” Wilder said. “The attitude of the players throughout has been superb. They’ve just looked to keep driving it on and driving it on. For us, as coaching staff, to see how they are going about things in training gives us so much belief.”
Meanwhile, United have confirmed over 3,000 tickets have been sold for the live beamback of their game at Sixfields. Tickets for the event, which takes place at Bramall Lane, are priced £10 adults and £5 concessions and available via the box office.