Sheffield United v Norwich City: Ben Osborn, Oli McBurnie and then Adam Davies drag The Blades back from the brink during dramatic draw

Sometimes, it’s all about aura. Not always. But often. As Sheffield United have discovered in recent weeks.
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Sheffield United: It's time to stop talking about character and start celebratin...

One month ago, you sensed Paul Heckingbottom’s team had opponents beaten before they even emerged from the tunnel. Something George Baldock, the Greece defender, alluded to immediately after the international break. Now, having entered this match on the back of a five match winless run, United seem to be paying their rivals far too much respect; feeling, probing and cautiously stalking their way through fixtures rather than grabbing them by the scruff of the neck.

Okay, so Norwich City were never going to be cowed into submission by the prospect of facing United. Even though they made the journey having suffered three straight defeats. But Dean Smith’s side could not initially have wished for more generous or accommodating hosts. Fortunately for Heckingbottom, United found themselves after the interval with Ben Osborn and Oli McBurnie cancelling out two early goals from Teemu Pukki. Adam Davies, having gifted City their first, redeemed himself by saving a late and continuously awarded penalty taken by the former Celtic striker. As bad as United were to begin with, they were superb following the break. The victory Heckingbottom craved remained elusive but, if the contest reminds United how to rediscover their barnstorming best, it could revitalise their campaign.

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“Tactics, football, stats, people get bogged down by it,” said Heckingbottom. “Emotion, feeling, intensity, that’s what wins games.”

When City last visited Bramall Lane, in March 2020, English football was about to be mothballed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a top-flight fixture. United were challenging for Europe. And Billy Sharp, one of four changes to their starting eleven, settled the contest in his club’s favour.

After Pukki’s brace, it appeared as if United were still in lockdown. But a cocktail of grit, determination and sheer commitment, made even more potent by City’s playacting, dragged them back from the brink with first Osborn and then McBurnie pouncing during a raucous second period. Iliman Ndiaye’s entrance was also a defining moment.

“There wasn’t too much difference between the halves,” Heckingbottom continued. “We attacked the same way afterwards, just with more aggression.”

Oliver Norwood of Sheffield United tussles with Josh Sargent of Norwich City  during a raucous match at Bramall Lane: Simon Bellis / SportimageOliver Norwood of Sheffield United tussles with Josh Sargent of Norwich City  during a raucous match at Bramall Lane: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
Oliver Norwood of Sheffield United tussles with Josh Sargent of Norwich City during a raucous match at Bramall Lane: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
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Presented with a chance to showcase his talents thanks to Wes Foderingham’s suspension, Davies’ afternoon began in horrendous fashion when his attempted clearance, from Anel Ahmedhodzic’s back pass, cannoned off Pukki and into the back of the net. The Finn struck again before the first half had even reached the midway point; holding off Ahmedhodzic, outmuscling his marker and then firing into the bottom of the net.

It took the introduction of Iliman Ndiaye and a sneaky kick from City captain Grant Hanley, on the prostrate Sharp, for United to find themselves. When Dimitris Giannoulis’ theatrics got the United skipper booked, the stadium became a cauldron and Sharp got revenge by creating the chance which Osborn converted at the far post to put the outcome back in the balance.

McBurnie seized the lifeline, scrambling home John Egan’s header before conceding the spot-kick Davies expertly saved. It was, Dean Smith acknowledged, one of those days.

“We allowed their crowd to get into it,” said the City manager, insting another penalty should have been awarded when Baldock felled Josh Sargent. “With some silly fouls and the goals were soft.”

John Fleck returned to Sheffield United's starting eleven against the visitors from Carrow Road: Simon Bellis / SportimageJohn Fleck returned to Sheffield United's starting eleven against the visitors from Carrow Road: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
John Fleck returned to Sheffield United's starting eleven against the visitors from Carrow Road: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

Sheffield United: Davies, Baldock, Osborn, Basham, Egan, Ahmedhodzic, Norwood, Fleck (Doyle 58), McAtee (Ndiaye 46), Brewster (McBurnie 64), Sharp © (Khadra 80). Not used: Amissah, Robinson, Buryabu.

Norwich City: Gunn, Aarons, Hanley ©, Gibson, Hayden (Hernandez 75), Cantwell, Ramsey (Gibbs 75), Pukki, Sargent, Nunez (Sinani 90), Giannoulis (Springett 70). Not used: Krul, Hugill, Tomkinson.

Referee: Josh Smith (Cambridgeshire).

Attendance: 30,035.