Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder believes in Oli McBurnie’s ability to score goals in the Premier League.
The Scotland international, a club-record signing for the Blades when he moved to Bramall Lane from Swansea in the summer of 2019, scored six times during his maiden top-flight season but has struggled to find the back of the net during this campaign.
It has seen him become the subject of heavy criticism from some United fans as their team has made the worst ever start to a Premier League campaign by any club, while McBurnie was also on the receiving end of flack from Scotland supporters last month, having gone 14 games without a goal for his country.
The 24-year-old broke his duck and lifted a huge weight from his shoulders with the Blades’ only goal in their 2-1 home defeat by Leicester last weekend and Wilder explained how he was impressed by McBurnie’s character through his barren spell.
“I believe in him. You’ve got to scrap your way out of it. The sun is not shining at the moment and that’s when you get judged, and he’s battling his way through it,” said the Blades boss, whose side face Southampton at St Mary’s Stadium on Sunday.
“He kept putting himself into the right positions and showing that desire to get into the right positions even though he knew there was a spotlight on him.
“That, for me, tells you something about his bravery and his character. It tells you that he cares and what type of person he is.
“He has come under the spotlight with us and when he’s been away with the national team, he always comes under the spotlight.
“But there’s big pressure on all of us, especially at the top of the pitch. People talk about xGs (expected goals statistics) and even through my eyes we should have scored more. That’s the pressure the players at the top of the pitch have to handle.
“It was a man’s performance from Oli (against Leicester). Everybody was delighted he got his goal. He knows he should have had more this season – as we all should have – but I believe in him and the group.
“He brings more to the team than goals and it was his all-round performance on Sunday that I thought was excellent.”
Despite their woes, wing-back George Baldock became the second player, after Wales international Rhys Norrington-Davies, to sign a new contract at Bramall Lane as an extension to June 2024 was announced on Saturday morning.
“I still believe we will get out of the situation we’re in and I’m absolutely delighted to sign a new deal,” he told sufc.co.uk.
“We all need to take individual responsibility on the pitch in the key moments, we’re not doing enough at the minute, but we’re fortunate that we have an opportunity to turn things around.”
Wilder is hoping for a triple injury boost against Southampton. Enda Stevens, Ethan Ampadu and Lys Mousset all resumed training this week and provided they come through Saturday’s session unscathed, Wilder will be able to call on them at St Mary’s.
Stevens has missed the last three games with a knee injury while Ampadu, on a season-long loan from Chelsea, has been carrying a hip problem for the last three weeks. Mousset has been limited to just 17 minutes of game-time this season having only recently made his return from a toe injury.