Sheffield United: The moment Oliver Norwood knew this squad was made of the right stuff

It was following a poor first-half at Reading when Oliver Norwood truly began to realise his team mates have what it takes.

Friday, 21st December 2018, 11:27 am
Updated Friday, 21st December 2018, 11:33 am
Oliver Norwood: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Oliver Norwood: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

The midfielder always suspected Sheffield United were capable of challenging for honours. After all, before arriving on loan from Brighton and Hove Albion, he had rejected overtures from other Championship clubs. 

But midway though their visit to the Madejski Stadium, as Chris Wilder's players told each other a few home truths, it dawned on Norwood that his hunch was correct.

"We told each other the way we'd played was unacceptable," he remembers. "And, do you know what? It was great to hear that. Sometimes, in a group, you get little divides and people doing there own thing. But that's not the case here, you really saw that then, the fact everyone is on the same page."

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Two weeks and one game later, Norwood is still in a really good place. Wilder's side, which eventually triumphed 2-0 in Berkshire, might have lost their outing against West Bromwich Albion. But, as the 27-year-old reminds, they will enter tomorrow's match against Ipswich Town fifth in the table and only eight points behind leaders Leeds.

Norwood recognises the hallmarks of a promotion winning squad after helping both Albion and Fulham reach the Premier League. So, as he reels them off inside the Steelphalt Academy media suite, it makes for intriguing listening.

"We've got what it takes, no doubts whatsoever, for a host of different reasons. It's about, when things aren't going well, you look around the dressing room and know that they've got your back. 

"The gaffer gives us a rollocking when he sees fit but he lets the dressing room run itself. Billy (Sharp) does that, with Bash (Chris Basham), Stears (Richard Stearman), Couttsy (Paul Coutts), (Martin) Cranie and myself. If someone steps out of line, they get told."

Crucially, after scrolling through his list of names, Norwood acknowledges not all of them are in the starting eleven. Although that might change over the Christmas period, three of those mentioned are unlikely to be first choice picks at Portman Road.

"If I'm not playing as well as I'd like, I know the lads around me will get me out of trouble," Norwood continues. "The same goes across the pitch. 

"The lads outside of the starting eleven are just as important. At some clubs, people get sulky if they're not in the team. But although there's disappointment, for sure, they encourage and drive the lads who are playing on. They want the same thing and that's so, so important if you want to get promotion."

Norwood, capped nearly 60 times by Northern Ireland, sees similarities between club and country.

"There's a club mentality with Northern Ireland too. Michael (O'Neill) said that he wanted everyone to be friends. 

"Even though I shouldn't say this, I'd go for a beer with all of them and the same goes for it here. People have got your back here and at international level. They'll help to drag you through."

When United entered the race for his services at the beginning of the season, Norwood recognised an opportunity both on and off the pitch. Born in Burnley and raised, in a footballing sense at Manchester United, he had nevertheless spent the past four years playing down south.

"The big thing for me in the summer was getting closer to home," he says. "I've been down south for about five years and I wanted to come back up. 

"Luckily for me, Sheffield United took a chance on me. My wife and little boy are back home and life is good off the pitch. I can't speak highly enough of the lads and the group here. We've just got to stick with what we're doing and believe in what we're doing."

"It makes a huge difference," Norwood adds. "I know sometimes people think 'they're footballers, they earn lots of money, it's the best job in the world.' 

"I get that because it is the best job in the world. But we're not robots and sometimes people forget that. We come in to work, like everyone else, and try to concentrate on our job. Being happy off the pitch is really important. I'm happy on the pitch and I'm happy off it too."

With his temporary deal set to become permanent next month, Norwood is now fully focused on helping United, who could climb to third if they beat the division's bottom club, achieve their aims.

"You come in and everybody has got a smile on their face," he says. "There's a real positive feeling about the place. We know we're not far off. 

"We get as frustrated as the fans at time because we know we're not far off and because of the standards that we've set. The thing is, we enjoy the style the gaffer likes to play in. It's all about taking the game to the opposition and getting on the front foot."