Neil Redfearn says Billy Sharp’s place is his to lose after the striker justified his public demand for more game time with a match-winning goal against Ipswich Town.
Sharp’s late volley – his second finish in two games – settled Wednesday’s dramatic match at Elland Road, earning United a 2-1 win and delivering on his promise that a run of appearances would lead to a spate of goals.
The 29-year-old voiced frustration over his bit-part role this season ahead of Ipswich’s visit to Yorkshire, saying he was “happy at Leeds but not happy about not playing”, but he earned more praise from Redfearn by turning home Lewis Cook’s cross during a pulsating conclusion on Wednesday.
The forward, who has started only 11 league games for United, left the field moments later with an ankle injury but Redfearn expects him to recover in time to play at Wigan Athletic tomorrow.
“He was brilliant,” said Redfearn, “outstanding again. He’s looking like a polished striker and his goal on Saturday gave him the confidence to go on and get another.
“With goalscorers, goals breed goals.
“It was clear to see. The message here is that if lads play well, they get in.
“It can’t be any other way. We can’t have favours where somebody plays just because of who they are. They’ve got to fight to get in.
“We had a struggle with that process earlier in the season but the message hit home.
“Players realise that if they don’t play well they don’t play. It’s made us better as a team.”
Sharp’s early effort against Watford at the weekend amounted to nothing as Watford fought back from 2-0 down to earn a 3-2 win at Elland Road but Ipswich – seventh in the Championship – had no answer to his 77th-minute volley.
Freddie Sears had cancelled out an Alex Mowatt free-kick four minutes earlier.
But a point slipped through Ipswich’s fingers when Daryl Murphy’s late penalty was tipped onto a post by Marco Silvestri.
The result opened up a 13-point gap between Leeds and the Championship’s relegation places, essentially confirming United will be in the same division next season.
Redfearn also paid tribute to Silvestri after the Italian goalkeeper’s late penalty save.
Silvestri – a summer signing from Chievo – has returned to form after a string of mixed displays around Christmas and his performances last month, including a man-of-the-match display in a 1-0 win at league leaders Middlesbrough, earned him a nomination for the Championship’s player-of-the-month award for February.
The trophy, however, went to Nottingham Forest’s Henri Lansbury this morning.
Silvestri’s reaction to Murphy’s 84th-minute spot-kick atoned for his failure to stop Sears’ shot creeping under his body and into the net but Redfearn said: “The thing with goalkeepers is that if they make a mistake it’s a goal.
“He’s a top young keeper and he won us the game at Middlesbrough. He’s going to make mistakes. So what, we move on.
“The penalty save was something else. I know he tipped it onto the post but it wasn’t a bad penalty, quick well stuck, but he got right across and got a strong hand to it.”