Leeds' Billy Sharp: An Opposition Keeper On The Striker's Strengths
After publicly pulling Fulham’s pants down over the transfer fee, losing Ross McCormack and his goals meant it was imperative that whoever makes the decisions at Elland Road brought in someone who will go someway to replacing the departed Scot. And although they have their differences as footballers, in acquiring Billy Sharp Leeds have done precisely that.
So what exactly do they have?
Leeds know whatever the price they have payed Southampton and Sharp himself, they’ve bought someone who as good as guarantees goals at Championship level. It would be naive to label him as merely a box player but that’s his biggest strength. To get the best out of Sharp, the one thing Dave Hockaday will need to ensure is there is a constant supply of quality deliveries into their opponents area and midfielders who can pick out his deft runs. If they can, this is where his three biggest technical qualities shine through.
Firstly it’s his movement that gives defenders their biggest headache, particularly inside the penalty area. As soon as the defender focuses his attention away from him and on to the ball coming in, Sharp makes his move and pulls away from his marker to give him that precious yard or two of space.
Secondly, having lost the defender, his first touch is unerringly good, setting the ball slightly in front of him so he can despatch the ball within an instant.
Most importantly, Sharp relaxes. This might seem the worst moment to be taking your time but when others will tense up and snatch at the opportunity, blazing it high or wide of the goal, he simply swings his foot through the ball, with the precision of a golfer’s putter. It’s his calmness that stands out a mile when you watch him shoot.
Outside of the box, Sharp will willingly use his bullish physique to hold up balls played into him or offer himself to a more positive pass down the outside of central defenders by using the same movement of pulling away diagonal from them for the ball slipped in behind.
What he lacks in the exceptional athleticism that is required at the very top of the game, Sharp’s desire to score goals sets him above your average goal-getter. He isn’t just a Johnny-on-the-spot who finds himself in the right place at the right time. He works hard to put himself in those areas, always thinking and changing position.
That desire to get on the end of deliveries is also coupled with a toughness that means no defender is in for an easy time. I remember him leaving Barnsley’s Stephen Foster with a deep gash down his shin whilst he was at Doncaster Rovers and it was as a result of that challenge he ended up scuffling with then Barnsley manager, Mark Robins, in the dressing rooms after the game. Along with his goals, it’s that kind of feisty attitude that will help endear him to the Elland Road faithful and become a firm favourite.