As manager Chris Wilder strode over to the Sheffield United away fans, both fists pumping the air, he was greeted with a roar of approval.
“He’s one of our own,” the travelling fans sang proudly, before a rendition of “Chrissy Wilder and Alan Knill.”
All afternoon, the visiting supporters had not been shy in expressing their opinions, on “England’s No 1” Dean Henderson, on David McGoldrick, Lys Mousset, the farce that is VAR and plenty of other topics beside. As the Norwich City fans filed out of Carrow Road they were left in little doubt about the pride their visitors have in this team, a reflection not just of their manager and his assistant Knill, but of the supporters too.
For 45 minutes it had been an unusually tepid display from a team that seemed to be suffering from the strange condition whereby sides that play on a Thursday struggle to lift their games the following Sunday. The second half was a showcase of what watching Sheffield United is like.
There was the determination to overcome adversity – in this case the goal by Alex Tettey that gave hosts Norwich a deserved lead at the interval, a pleasing mixture of aggression and technical ability, goals (and an assist) from both wing-backs, attacking substitutions, outstanding goalkeeping and the video assistant refereeing controversy that depressingly seems to follow them around in every Premier League match. The only unusual thing about that was that, for once, it worked in their favour.
The club that feels like it has been on the rough end of more decisions from Stockley Park than any other went down in history as the first to have a Premier League red card overturned when Chris Basham was sent from the field, then ushered back on.
Just as Wilder’s side have not suffered back-to-back defeats since the first week of last season, so they also rarely put two poor halves together. He will not stand for that.
“The manager had a right go at us at half-time,” revealed John Fleck.
“I had to have a little bit of a poke, but they took it in the way it was delivered and delivered a really good second-half performance,” explained Wilder.
The match was pretty forgettable until David McGoldrick forced its first save after 26 minutes with a volley he did not really get hold of. Unfortunately for the Blades it jolted the Canaries into life and within two minutes they were ahead.
Tettey won his header at a Norwich corner and the ball bounced about before he half-volleyed into the net. One of the ricochets was near Christoph Zimmerman’s arm, but Peter Bankes saw nothing wrong with the goal on his television monitor.
The Sheffield United fans had already made their disdain for VAR known and Norwich’s were quick to join their angry chants.
Just before the break Henderson rushed out of his area to head a long ball clear, then stretched to keep out Mario Vrancic.
Oliver Norwood’s excellent passing apart, there was little for the Blades to be happy about as they trooped in at half-time.
The second half was a different story, thanks in no small part to the brilliant wing-backs who, along with their overlapping centre-backs, are a real feature of the Blades’ football under Wilder.
After 49 minutes right-back George Baldock crossed for Enda Stevens to head in. While Stevens did not get the assist for Baldock’s goal three minutes later, it was his lovely footwork and pass when hemmed in by the touchline in his own half that sprang the attack. Baldock rounded it off when he drove the ball into the net.
Then VAR came into its own. As has often been the case in Blades’ matches this season, the decision was correct, the process deeply unsatisfactory.
The whistle had blown for offside when John Lundstram hit the ball into the net, but when Bankes started rewinding, the players must have wondered if he was looking at the penalty-area challenge on Basham that saw the ball drop to the midfielder.
All the players and spectators were told was that VAR was checking for a goal. Even playing to the whistle has been rendered redundant by VAR.
After a couple of minutes’ deliberation, Bankes decided the offside call was correct, making the tackle irrelevant.
About 20 minutes later, Basham was given his marching orders for a reckless tackle on Kenny McClean. On closer inspection, Bankes discovered no contact had been made, and the defender was brought back on to be shown a yellow card instead.
A fantastic Henderson save from Cantwell notwithstanding, it sucked the life out of the game, and united rival supporters.
“It’s not football any more,” they sang in unison, then: “We want our football back.”
Game after game the discussion centres on men behind monitors when it should be about the brilliant job Wilder, his coaches and players are doing putting pride back into Sheffield United. The Blades’ football deserves wider recognition.