Norwich City 1- 2 Sheffield United: Baldock salvo stuns struggling hosts
Enda Stevens converts from Baldock's cross (Photo: Getty Images)

It was perhaps ironic that the Sheffield United team coach arrived the best part of two hours before kick-off following an astonishing rant from manager Chris Wilder over two years ago.

After being sent-off for showing his frustrations on the touchline during the Blades' defeat to Norwich, Wilder exclaimed: "Get to the game on time and show the opposition manager and captain and referee and fourth official and the assistant and the assessor a little bit of respect."

With tensions fuelled by 'busgate' and ignited later that season by a passionate celebration in front of the Norwich faithful when the result was reversed, Wilder would not have been expecting a welcome return to Carrow Road - and that was certainly evident from several pages in the matchday programme.

The visiting boss opted to switch his front two after a midweek defeat to Newcastle ended a seven-game unbeaten run, Lys Mousset and David McGoldrick recalled to lead the line.

Norwich also went into the contest on the back of a disappointing loss just a few days ago and opted to supply the trickery of Emi Buendia rather than the tackling ability of Tom Trybull in midfield, a bold move against previously aggressive opposition, as Mario Vrancic also returned for his first league game of the season in the middle of the park.

Tettey opens the scoring after lacklustre opening

In an unexpected tactical move, Onel Hernandez appeared to flit between supporting Teemu Pukki as a second striker whilst switching positions with Kenny McLean who often drifted out to the left.

But the opening quality in the first 20 minutes was poor from both sides with numerous passes going astray - a brash pass back from Enda Stevens 40 yards from his own goal that went out for a corner underpinned more of a Championship contest than Premier League football as this meeting was last season. The only real excitement, a unanimous chant against VAR from both sets of supporters.

Whilst Pukki worked his socks off through the channels for the hosts, Sheffield United lacked movement and creativity. The first chance of note coming from a hopeful cross into the box that was headed down by Ben Godfrey but McGoldrick couldn't get any purchase to test Tim Krul.

Thus, it was unsurprising that the deadlock was broken by scruffy football inside the penalty area.

The Blades failed to clear their lines from a Norwich corner as the ball spiralled into the cold, winter sky and Alex Tettey lashed home the loose ball to give the home side a vital opener - his first goal since August 2018 after Buendia's corner initially met the Norwich captain's head.

Blades blunted

As the heavens opened, the visitors continued to struggle at both ends of the pitch. The front two averaged less than 60% combined for their pass completion whilst the back three appeared shell-shocked by the workrate of Norwich's attacking players, constantly running the ball out of play.

Despite doubling Norwich's tally for the number of aerial duels won this season, more pinball from a home corner resulted in Godfrey heading into the gloves of Dean Henderson.

Meanwhile, Oli Norwood and Vrancic traded skewed efforts from range when they should have done better.

Perhaps still dazed by the Jonjo Shelvey controversy in the week, and even further blinded by the shock Tettey opener, Sheffield United lacked the steel and passion they had based their season upon. Vrancic was granted the freedom of Carrow Road as his driven effort was palmed away by Henderson just before the break.

If Wilder didn't enjoy playing Norwich, despite being unbeaten in the last three, he certainly wouldn't have been spirited by his side's first-half showing.

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Baldock leads the charge

But within four minutes of the restart, a more spritely Sheffield United were level, just 180 seconds before they went ahead.

Pressing off the ball and quicker in possession, the previously anonymous George Baldock found space on the right before looping up a cross for his fellow wing-back Stevens to climb highest and head home.

Baldock was in the mood and he reacted quickest to a poor Sam Byram header as the rejuvenated visitors overloaded on the right just moments later.

After working the ball to John Lundstrom, the midfielder presented the ball back to his colleague who twisted and turned on the edge of the penalty area before firing past Krul.

From 1-0 down to 2-1 ahead in a three-minute barrage from the away side - Wilder had clearly let rip at half-time.

Further VAR controversy - Basham red card overturned

More action had unfolded in the first ten minutes of the second half compared to the entire opening 45 and there was still room for plenty of VAR controversy.

Hernandez went down under a challenge in his own penalty area, the referee blew for a free-kick and a Blades player curled the ball home when every other individual on the pitch had stopped.

But a lengthy VAR review checked to see whether the Norwich free-kick should have been awarded as the home crowd held their breath...eventually the decision was upheld.

Norwich couldn't get hold of the ball and the contest appeared to be slipping away despite Todd Cantwell and Jamal Lewis being introduced from the bench.

But they appeared to be thrown a lifeline on 73 minutes when a vicious sliding challenge from Chris Basham resulted in a straight red card...or so it seemed.

The defender waited on the side of the pitch as VAR reviewed the challenge, deciding to issue a yellow card instead. A clear and obvious error from the referee?

"Take your time"

The temperature was certainly lifted as this unlikely rivalry continued to be stoked - Norwich pressing but Sheffield United dangerous on the counter-attack as McGoldrick fired over twice.

Dean Henderson had enjoyed a relatively quiet afternoon but he pulled off an outstanding stop to flick away a Cantwell drive after Buendia had released him through a tight space in the box. Substitute Dennis Srbeny then fired high and wide from the resulting corner.

But Sheffield United, with their fans chanting "take your time, play the Norwich way", in response to the clash that infuriated Wilder as we referenced earlier, killed the tempo to get back to winning ways.

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Key takeaway

Norwich too lightweight for the Premier League

The first-half showing from Sheffield United was arguably their worst 45 minutes of the season - Norwich surely must have expected an onslaught?

One key difference between the two promoted sides is that the Blades have wanted more of the 50-50 challenges throughout the opening four months of the season than Norwich and that was underpinned when Enda Stevens, hardly the tallest player on the pitch, climbed higher than two Norwich defenders for the equaliser.

At that point, it was vital Norwich sat in and killed any momentum - they didn't.

Sam Byram found himself overloaded by a switch of play and George Baldock swooped on a stretched clearance before eventually firing home a second - Byram's left-sided colleague, Onel Hernandez, showing his lack of defensive prowess for both goals.

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