Sheffield United: Norwich boss joins key Blade’s fan club as he hails influence of “one of best players”

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In the build-up to Saturday’s game at Bramall Lane, a crunch game in the promotion ambitions of both Norwich City and Sheffield United, visiting boss Dean Smith paid particular attention to nullifying the threat of one player in particular.

It wasn’t Iliman Ndiaye, United’s joint-top scorer this season, or Oli McBurnie, who went into the game looking for – and ultimately claiming - his sixth goal in 10 games. Instead, it was midfield maestro Ollie Norwood who was the subject of City’s attentions, with Smith admitting afterwards that his side “had to stop him running the game” after describing him as “one of their best players in controlling the game”.

“We didn’t have anyone close enough to him for the second goal,” Smith added, as Norwood’s pinpoint ping found John Egan’s head and McBurnie was in the right place to score United’s equaliser via the post.

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Only Ben Osborn, who got United back into the game with a calm finish at the back post to cap a promising display out of position at left wing-back when still looking to regain match sharpness, could seriously challenge Norwood as man of the match. The midfielder finished the game with more touches, passes and successful long balls than anyone on the pitch and one diagonal pass to George Baldock on the wing, perfectly-flighted to go over the head of Dimitris Giannoulis, attracted a smattering of applause when the skill involved surely deserved so much more.

Now 31 years old and looking for his fourth promotion from this division – and also a new contract, with his current terms set to expire in the summer – Norwood is showing time and again how important he is to this side’s ambitions. Defensively his output is as good as ever, too, as he consistently breaks up play and then dictates United’s tempo.

He is United’s leading man in too many statistical areas to list, and no other midfielder in the division has completed more successful corners or crosses. Hopefully busting once and for all the ridiculous ‘Can’t beat the first man’ myth.

Oliver Norwood of Sheffield United: Simon Bellis / SportimageOliver Norwood of Sheffield United: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
Oliver Norwood of Sheffield United: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

“Oli, if I compare him to John Egan, they aren’t explosive players,” boss Paul Heckingbottom said. “They’re tactically very good and they’re really reliable. They have a robustness and how they play the game helps. A lot of their game is in their heads. They’re still challenged and they’re not perfect, but they’re two big players for us. Against Blackpool, I felt the two players who drove us on were Ollie and John. And that’s what I expect from them.”

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The expectation is carried within, too. As one of United’s senior players, and by far their most experienced in terms of a promotion race, Norwood has a big role to play off the pitch as well and it came as no surprise recently to hear young Oli Arblaster namecheck Norwood as a player he watches closely in training, as he looks to drive the standards each day. But he still has much to offer on the pitch too, and remains WhoScored’s highest-rated player in the Championship this season.

Still, some on the Bramall Lane terraces doubt his influence. One thing is almost for sure; the Blades will miss him when his time in South Yorkshire comes to an end, whenever that day may come.

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