The crucial double act which helped Sheffield United reach the FA Cup fifth round

At the beginning of the game, as Sheffield United imposed their authority on this FA Cup fourth round tie, the partnership between Billy Sharp and Oliver Norwood appeared the greatest threat to Plymouth Argyle’s hopes of causing an upset.

Saturday, 23rd January 2021, 5:00 pm
Updated Saturday, 23rd January 2021, 5:00 pm

Twice during the opening exchanges, Norwood put his captain through. And twice, albeit not entirely through any particular fault of his own, Sharp failed to convert the opportunity. As the afternoon wore on, and the visitors’ resistance wilted, the double act’s influence seemed to be on the wane. But perseverance is an important quality against opponents prepared to defend deep and in numbers.

Early in the second period, it was the Norwood and Sharp duplet which effectively sealed United’s progress and ended Argyle’s stoic resistance.

Despite dominating possession throughout the first-half, United had failed to put the match to bed by the time referee Lee Mason blew for the interval. Indeed, before Chris Basham had headed them into a slender but deserved lead, Panutche Camara missed a simply glorious opportunity for the League One side - firing over the crossbar from close range following a well constructed move.

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Billy Sharp scores after Oliver Norwood's superb through ball: Darren Staples/Sportimage

But a piece of real quality from Norwood - in the shape of a low, perfectly weighted hand defence splitting pass - created the opening for Sharp to stretch United’s lead soon after the restart. It was the former Brighton and Hove Albion man at his best, after some uncharacteristically subdued and ineffective performances of late.

With Camara later profiting from some woeful pieces of defending to reduce the deficit, the 34-year-old’s third goal of the campaign turned out to be of crucial importance - ensuring United reached the next phase of the competition, where they will face Bristol City - without the need for extra time.

With Kelland Watts somehow surviving a VAR review for handball after blocking an Ethan Ampadu shot, it was Basham who broke the deadlock when he nodded home Sharp’s centre at the far post.

Camara, who would later take advantage of errors by John Lundstram, Basham and Aaron Ramsdale to set up a finale far more tense than it should have been, had earlier missed a sitter from close range following a rare foray forward by Argyle.

Sharp rounded Michael Cooper soon after the break, making no mistake following Norwood’s superb assist, before being withdrawn as Chris Wilder rang the changes late on. Argyle, emboldened by Camara’s strike, did their utmost to try and snatch an equaliser. But United, a few anxious moments apart, were able to keep them at arms-length. Any trouble they found themselves in was entirely of their own making.

Sheffield United: Ramsdale, Stevens, Bogle (Baldock 71), Basham, Egan, Ampadu, Norwood (Bruan 71), Fleck, Lundstram, Brewster (McGoldrick 79), Sharp (Burke 79). Not used: Foderingham, Lowe, Jagielka, Rodwell, Ndiaye.

Plymouth Argyle: Cooper, Watts, Aimson, Edwards, Hardie Telford 64), Mayor, Grant, Fornah (Reeves 59), Opoku, Camara (Nouble 87), Jephcott (Moore 64). Not used: McCormick, Wootton, Nouble, Law, Pursall, Mitchell.

Referee: Lee Mason (Greater Manchester). VAR: Jarred Gillett (Gold Coast).

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