Monday, 20 August 2018

Game by Game - 8

SkyBet Championship, Norwich (H), 2-1

After the recriminations and frustrations of last season's encounter at the Lane, the visit of Norwich (just like Mel B's dresses) holds a little more spice than it used to.

The Canaries' time wasting last season was unlike anything I have seen from an opposition side in years and whilst Saturday's game didn't quite reach those levels, it wasn't far off at times. The fact that Darren Bond (whose one-way decision making made me question if he was related to John) only added 3 minutes on as the clock reached 90 astounded many in the ground. The fact that it was sufficient time for United to finally make Norwich pay, meant any of those grumbles and frustrations could be forgotten about.

After last week's win at QPR and an improved performance midweek, let down yet again by spurned chances, there was cautious optimism, if a little surprise, at the omission of Stearman in what looked a very positive and attacking Blades line up.

From the off Norwood was busy, wanting the ball, dictating play and his link up with Fleck was reminiscent of the Coutts/Fleck partnership, with each taking responsibility in turn and prompting, driving United forward. Norwood's set pieces were a joy all game. When Egan met his right wing corner (which Norwood had also won) at the far post his powerful header looked to be cleared off the line from the Kop, but the Blades players were claiming goal and a couple of seconds later the referee got the call and signalled goal. The Lane was rocking and "Take your time, take you time Sheffield United, playing football the Norwich way" rang out.

For the next 20 minutes United were on top and you thought they were most likely to score, but they suffered a real sucker punch. Basham failed to deal with Hernandez on the left side of the box, being rolled far too easily, and the winger put it on a plate for Wednesday loanee Jordan Rhodes, who doesn't miss a chance like that.......unless he is in a shirt with Chansiri written on it.  His celebration right in front of the Kop stirred anger and abuse, but that quickly subsided and the ground felt deflated as the game, from a United view, fizzled out to half time. Despite this I felt optimistic, telling friends at half time we will win this 2-1.

The second half saw United start the better side. Several crosses into the box came to nothing, Egan saw a hooked effort well saved by Krul on the post and two great Norwood corners ended with Leonard heading over and a late surging Egan could only direct  his header inches past the post. Norwich had opportunities too, spurning a great chance from a couple of yards out after the ball came back off the bar. Leitner then received the ball after a deflection off a team mate at least 8 yards offside. With no flag and two team mates in support he hared down on Henderson, only for the keeper to stand tall and make a superb stop. 

The three minutes injury time were going down as quickly as Alex Tettey with "cramp" and even I was doubting my half time optimism, when Basham played a Norwood-esque ball into McGoldrick's path on the left side of the box. He hooked his foot around it, dragging it across goal, where Sharp forced it home. Delirium. Wilder was down one touchline, Henderson ran the length of the other to join in celebrations. A deserved win and whilst there is still work to be done, both defensively and on delivering a full ninety minute performance, there was much to feel optimistic about.  

Three final thoughts:

Jordan's assets - Canaries fans could have been excused for looking like their most famous celebrity Alan Partridge at full time. After a salutary wave to the away end, off Rhodes skulked towards the tunnel, without going over to the fans. You can imagine the plaintive cries of "JorDAN, JorDAN! JorDAN! JorDAN........JorDAAAAAN...........JorDAN!..... oh he's not seen us" coming from the away end. After his goal celebration in front of the Kop was rendered meaningless he clearly didn't want to be on that pitch any longer. Having said all that, Rhodes would be an absolute dream to have at the Lane. With the way we play and the types of goals he scores, he would finish off plenty of those crosses that pass through the box without that final touch and would be a great target for Norwood at set pieces. In fact, there is a good chance he would have walked off that pitch with the match ball on Saturday if he had worn a red and white shirt.

"Comes to something" - My Dad mutters the same thing every week. In fact he has uttered the six words for the last twenty odd years. As the Kop rises to its feet in anticipation as the ball is placed for a corner to be taken, he is in no rush to get up. Partly down to his advancing years and difficulty in getting up too quickly, but also due to his long held belief that "We never bloody score from corners". Sod's Law he wasn't there with me on Saturday, but I think it will be rare that he mutters that phrase whilst ever Oliver Norwood is a Blade. 

The @S24SU twitter feed will also have to change as Foxy and Linz have to get used to not clicking in drafts and selecting the  "Comes to nothing"  after every "Corner to the Blades" tweet. We have a player who can not only dictate play in the middle of the park, wanting the ball, making himself available and then picking a pass, we have a dead ball specialist. From the corner met by Egan and for the 81 minutes that followed, each corner or free kick was met with a deep breath and a degree of anticipation from the crowd. There was good variation; short, long and out to the edge of the penalty area, and each time you felt something could happen here. Whilst overseas midweek, I caught up with the Hull Cup game via twitter and saw plenty of mention of Norwood and his corners, with his performance on Saturday it genuinely excited me…….long may it continue.

Leon's not lazy - One grumble from Saturday is directed at a section of our support that seem hell bent on making Leon Clarke the latest target for their frustrations. At times in the first half it felt much bigger than just a small section of fans and it seemed like half the Kop sighed "OhhhhhLeon" as he didn't quite react in time to cut out a loose ball. We are a fan base that likes to see effort and a trier and often in the past that has more than made up for any technical limitation a player might have, making certain players heroes over more skilful team mates who perhaps lacked application. Leon works hard for the team, but he also uses judgement about when to close down play, when to challenge for a header, when to stand off play and wait for the break down. A great example was when two Norwich defenders went up to win the same header. Fans around me clearly felt Leon should go up in a 2 v 1 challenge, instead he just pulled into the space left by the defenders, ready to exploit the gaping hole if the second ball was collected.

His work rate certainly upped a notch second half and he never gave Hanley or Krul a moment to dwell on the ball. At 33, Leon is often the striker that lasts 90 minutes and to do that you need to use your experience and know when to chase and when not to. Unfortunately for some, that is seemingly a sign of laziness. He is just missing a goal and if he had turned in the chance first half with a  crisper finish then who knows what it will do to his confidence.  

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