You sensed it was not going to be Sheffield United’s day when, having told the matchday programme he requires ankle surgery, Ched Evans was named in the starting 11 following the late withdrawals of Billy Sharp and Leon Clarke.
The centre-forward, together with the excellent David Brooks, created numerous chances against opponents whose theatrics infuriated boss Chris Wilder to such an extent he was dismissed from the technical area midway through the second-half.
But the sheer volume of crosses which flew untouched across Norwich City’s box suggested that, had they been able to select a fully-fit striker, United would have taken something from a game settled by Yanic Wildschut’s early goal.
“I thought we got into some really nice positions,” Brooks said. “It was just a lack of quality in the final third. We made the chances but just couldn’t put them away. We dug in right until the end, though, threw everything at it, and I think that tells you something.”
While United reflect upon a rare home defeat - their first in the league since January - efforts to ensure at least one of the five attackers forced to sit out this fixture is available for Sunday’s visit to Sheffield Wednesday will begin in earnest.
Wilder, as he prepares to spend a week leafing anxiously through their medical reports, can take some comfort from the fact that Brooks, the latest precocious talent to roll off the Steelphalt Academy conveyor belt, confirmed he is ready to be unleashed on the Championship.
Brooks, aged 20, troubled, teased and tormented City’s defence all afternoon, having been parachuted into the team. Indeed, but for an excellent Angus Gunn save and rare miscalculation during the closing stages, the youngster would have celebrated his full league debut by joining Wildschut on the scoresheet.
“On a personal note, it was a good day,” Brooks said. “A big one as well. But’s it’s a team game, so we’re all really disappointed.”
WILDER SEES RED
Failure does not sit comfortably with Wilder. Nor, as his comments post-match confirmed, did City’s fascination with football’s darker arts.
Daniel Farke’s men impressed with their tactical discipline before the interval. Their adherence to the plan devised by the German was unwavering and absolute. Unfortunately, as Cameron Jerome’s influence waned and United’s grip tightened, the visitors’ conduct besmirched the spirit of the game.
The bonehead who threw a plastic bottle at Gunn during one of the numerous delays caused by their histrionics can not be excused. But Wilder’s frustration was understandable. When City took an age to organise themselves for a throw-in, his patience snapped and some water bottles went flying as he kicked the ball from their dug-out.
“We had to deal with a couple of little issues,” he said, after being dismissed by Scott Duncan.
“I thought we should have had a penalty in the first half. Saying that, they could possibly have had a penalty late on. There were time-wasting issues too, which is ridiculous. I think referees have got to address that a bit quicker.”
“I know there is a fine line between being professional and taking the mick. I know they add it on at the end,” he continued.
“But it breaks the flow up when you are in the ascendancy.”
Brooks did his best to protect the spirit of the game by focusing on football rather than time-wasting and feigning injury.
Involved in most of United’s best attacking moves, the Wales under-21 international provided an early glimpse of his ability with a delightful turn which left Tom Trybull trailing and City’s defence floundering until Gunn came to their rescue. He was denied by Christoph Zimmermann moments later, and his innocent, attack-minded approach was the perfect antidote to City’s amateur dramatics and gave Wilder, who acknowledged the player should have scored after being presented with a chance during the closing stages, plenty to consider ahead of the trip to Hillsborough.
“Brooks was at the heart of everything we produced,” he said.
“We had to change our shape and we have played Ched, who is 50-60 per cent and needs an op.
“But those boys ran around and gave everything.”