The story of another eventful episode in the rivalry between Sheffield United and Norwich City
It wasn’t a derby. But it felt like one beforehand. Even though, in terms of geography, approach and even image, the two clubs are miles apart.
However, with much of the pre-match analysis focusing on the relationship between Chris Wilder and Daniel Farke, the significance of this game appeared to escape many people’s notice.
There might have been 10 places between them ahead of kick-off. In terms of points, however, the gap was only eight.
Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, had reminded his team of that before they boarded their plane to Norfolk on Saturday evening.
Twenty-four hours earlier, when he played host to the media at the Steelphalt Academy training complex, most of those in attendance wanted to discuss ‘Coach Gate’, impromptu makeovers of Carrow Road’s away dressing room or another of the seemingly endless series of spats which, by Wilder’s admission, have given United’s recent meetings with Norwich City “plenty of extra edge”.
He played along, providing a few entertaining anecdotes and illuminating insights. But Wilder’s sights remained fixed on trying to win a contest which, despite not being the highest profile fixture on either club’s schedule, he suspected would go a long way towards shaping the rest of the campaign.
“If they get a result here,” Wilder predicted, referring to the opposition, “Then they’ll fancy reeling in a few of those sides above them. And we’re one of those.”
It was a theory which explained his mood afterwards.
“That’s an important win for us,” Wilder said. “A very important win because, make no mistake, we know how good Norwich are. There were things we weren’t pleased with. Particularly before the break and I think you can say that a few things were mentioned (during the interval).
“But then we really looked ourselves. Which we had to. Because everything you get, in this division especially, is just so important.”
Despite describing City as the “best in the Championship by a long chalk last season”, Wilder has watched his squad adapt quicker to life in the Premier League than the one they were promoted alongside.
Travelling south in ninth and beaten only once in eight outings, United’s high-octane football and spiteful attitude has captured the imagination of supporters and fellow professionals alike. Both were conspicuous by the absence before the interval but returned, as goals from Enda Stevens and George Baldock cancelled out Alex Tettey’s opener for City, with a vengeance after the break.
“I thought it was a dangerous game for us,” Wilder said. “A real dangerous game for us, because of the familiarity of the two teams. I think it went under the radar how well both of our two teams did, because when you look at the money that has been spent elsewhere in the division, we should have been nowhere near it.”
Predictably, given the way their rivalry has developed of late, the 72nd competitive meeting between United and City spawned another controversial moment. It came, with around a quarter-of-an-hour remaining, when Chris Basham was sent-off for foul on Kenny McLean.
The United defender protested his innocence before being summoned back to Simon Hooper when VAR officials at Stockley Park instructed the referee to rescind his red card and issue a yellow one instead.
Publicly at least, Farke and Wilder agree on little. But with the latter later suggesting the system should be scrapped, they were singing from the same hymn sheet in the press room afterwards.
“It sucks the life out of the stadium and out of the fans,” Farke said, pausing for thought and taking a mighty deep breath. “Let me tell you, it also sucks the life out of the coach.”
“I am a traditionalist,” he added. “So maybe I could handle a few more mistakes if we can keep the emotion in the game.”
“There were 28 or 29 thousand people in the stadium and they were all of the same opinion,” Wilder said, echoing his counterpart’s opinion. “I don’t think the fans - and they are the real stakeholders in all of this - really want it do they.”
Having expressed his displeasure with their first-half performance -”We didn’t do the fundamentals” - Wilder will have been delighted with United’s showing throughout the second. The sight of two wing-backs combining to create the equaliser - Baldock crossing for Stevens to head home - was a reminder of how effective their 3-5-2 system can be.
Baldock’s strike, which threatened to leave poor Mario Vrancic needing treatment for twisted blood, was a piece of pure individual brilliance. There was another following Basham’s reprieve, when Dean Henderson excelled himself to deny City substitute Todd Cantwell.
“Dean has one thing to do and he does it really well,” Wilder said. “That’s good. We were more aggressive and more effective in the second-half. Dean is still a young goalkeeper so concentration levels are key. When he has to make a big save, Dean makes a big save.
“He looked like a proper top-flight goalkeeper out there and he has looked like one of those for a long time.”