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Will Billy be Sharp enough to claim Championship Golden Boot, or will Newcastle’s Carroll hit the right note?

WHEN Newcastle United were relegated from the Premier League last season, almost every football fan in the country expected them to sweep all before them in the Coca-Cola Championship this term.

And, for the most part, they haven’t disappointed. With just twelve games of the season left, they are eight points clear of Nottingham Forest in third place, and are the league’s second highest scorers behind West Bromwich Albion.

Perhaps surprisingly, however, is that Newcastle’s highest scorer is midfielder Kevin Nolan with 12, and the fact that strikers Peter Lovenkrands , Andrew Carroll, Marlon Harewood and Shola Ameobi, all supposedly Premier League quality, have failed to set the second tier of English football alight with their goals.

Sports News - January 10, 2009
Newcastle’s Andy Carroll (left) hasn’t filled the boots of Michael Owen

If one of the aforementioned strikers – Carroll, for example, the tall striker hailed as Alan Shearer’s natural successor to the crown of Geordie goal king – had knocked in 25 or 30 goals, it would hardly have come as a surprise. In reality, strikers from clubs such as Cardiff City (in sixth place), eleventh-placed Doncaster Rovers and Crystal Palace, who are one point clear of the relegation trap-door, occupy the top six places in the Championship’s table of top marksmen.

According to the latest Championship statistics, Peter Whittingham and Michael Chopra are currently the league’s most potent combination, having mustered 30 goals between them (the former is leading the way with 16). As Cardiff’s financial position has taken a turn for the worse, however, so has the form of their strikers.

Chopra’s last league goal came back in January, after scoring six in the first four games of the season, and midfielder Whittingham has found the net just one in his last six outings – having netted twice in the first two of the term. Like the Bluebirds, who are currently seventh in the league and reportedly facing financial difficulties, the two may have peaked too early in the race for the league’s Golden Boot.

The next name on the list, Doncaster’s Billy Sharp, is arguably the season’s best loan signing, having arrived at the Keepmoat Stadium on a temporary basis from South Yorkshire neighbours Sheffield United. After being sold by his boyhood club United in 2005, Sharp netted an incredible 53 times in 80 games for Scunthorpe United – persuading The Blades to buy him back for a fee reported to be around £2million.

Football - Leyton Orient v Sheffield United FA Cup Third Round

Sharp (left) struggled to replicate that form in front of goal at Bramall Lane, however, and was allowed to join Sean O’Driscoll’s Rovers in September. Since then, the diminutive striker has banged in fourteen league goals after flourishing as the focal point of O’Driscoll’s passing system. Sharp banged in two more goals in Rovers’ 5-2 demolition of Bristol City last weekend and, with the addition of Arsenal loanee Jay Emmanuel-Thomas to play alongside him, could yet add many more to his tally as Doncaster look to build on their current mid-table position.

Newcastle United star Kevin Nolan is the Geordie giants’ top scorer, with 12 league goals – thirteen in all competitions. But, having captained the side – and scored – in their 6-1 demolition of Barnsley last week, he is hungry for more.

“Thirteen goals is absolutely fantastic,” he said.

“Hopefully I can push on and get a couple more goals from now to the end of the season to help the team.”

Blackpool, two points off a play-off place and currently in seventh, have been the Championship’s surprise package this season – and striker Charlie Adam, with twelve goals, has been an integral part of their good form.

Steve Claridge, who played over 600 games in a long career, knows a thing or two about the attributes that make up a good striker – and described Adam as “very, very good”.

Charlie Adam shows what he can do in a Blackpool practice match

“Adam has certainly done well since moving to England, initially on loan, at the start of 2009, and he has scored 13 goals already this season,” Claridge, now a BBC pundit, said.

“I’ve only watched Charlie briefly this season but when I have caught glimpses of him he has looked very, very good.

“That whole Blackpool team have been like a breath of fresh air – statistically they are the most entertaining side in that division in terms of goals scored and conceded – and he has played a big part in the positive side of that.”

The £500,000 signing may yet repay that fee a hundred times over, by firing unfashionable Blackpool to the Premier League – but who would bet against the Scot taking home the league’s Golden Boot, too?

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