Leeds United: Sharp vows to fight for first-team place

Leeds United's Billy Sharp celebrates his winner with the fans.
Leeds United's Billy Sharp celebrates his winner with the fans.
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Billy Sharp vowed to fight on for more regular football at Leeds United after lighting up Saturday’s West Yorkshire derby with a late winner against Huddersfield Town.

The striker produced a 90th-minute header to settle a tight game at the John Smith’s Stadium and then revealed how close he had come to leaving United a fortnight ago.

Sharp – the subject of an unsuccessful loan bid from Ipswich Town – said Leeds were ready to let him depart after a five-month spell in which the former Sheffield United player has struggled to make a serious impact.

The forward has been largely limited to substitute appearances since the first month of the season but he stepped off the bench on 88 minutes at Huddersfield and earned Leeds another valuable win with his first chance, nodding home a cross from Mirco Antenucci.

Competition up front at Elland Road is likely to intensify in the next 24 hours with Leeds believed to be on the verge of signing Albanian striker Edgar Cani from Catania.

United have been negotiating a deal to take Cani on a half-season loan from Serie B and they are expected to complete the formalities before FIFA’s winter transfer window closes at 11pm tonight.

Sharp’s dramatic cameo, however, staked his claim for further opportunities as Leeds remained five points clear of the Championship’s relegation places.

The forward said: “Leeds said I could have gone (to Ipswich) but I don’t want to leave. I’m settled here. It’s a great club and I want to score goals for Leeds.

“Ipswich have two good strikers and I wouldn’t have played much so I didn’t want to leave. But I am a professional footballer and I do want to play more.

“I’ve not scored anywhere near as many goals as I’d like to have done. I have not played as much either. But the fans have stuck by me and that one was for them.

“I’ve scored a few goals in my career and I fancy my chances of getting in the right place at the right time. I’m buzzing that I helped win a game.”

Sharp was sent on by head coach Neil Redfearn after injury forced 17-year-old Lewis Cook to leave the pitch. His late winner prompted dramatic celebrations, with Sharp jumping into the 3,700-strong away crowd.

United have now taken eight points from their last four games, edging towards safety after toiling through the first half of the season.

The club, whose controversial owner Massimo Cellino was banned from running them until April by the Football League two weeks ago, appeared to be in serious danger of slipping into the bottom three prior to their recent resurgence.

Their Championship campaign has been plagued by changes of head coaches, doubts about Cellino’s ownership and accusations that the Italian was interfering in team affairs.

Asked why the club’s form was improving, Sharp said: “I don’t know. You tell me. It’s hard to answer. If he (Cellino) leaves Redders and us to do the job then we’ll be fine.”

Along with Cani, Millwall winger Martyn Woolford could also be heading for Elland Road today following talks between the two Championship sides.

The ex-York City and Scunthorpe United player, 29, was put forward as a possible target by United head coach Neil Redfearn last month and the YEP understands that Millwall are interested in a swap deal which takes veteran Leeds midfielder Michael Tonge to The Den.

Tonge, like Woolford, is in the last year of his contract and has not played for Leeds since Boxing Day.