Billy Sharp’s strike and Dean Henderson’s heroics maintain Blades’ European push
Sheffield United maintained their push for European football with a 1-0 home win against bottom club Norwich.
Captain Billy Sharp headed the only goal of the game after 36 minutes as the Blades climbed to sixth in the Premier League table, for a few hours at least, and just two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea.
However, Chris Wilder’s team needed a world class piece of goalkeeping from Dean Henderson to ensure victory, with the on-loan Manchester United goalkeeper underlining his England credentials with a triple save late in the game.
For Norwich, the defeat means they remain six points adrift of safety with nine matches remaining to save their top-flight status.
The hosts began brightly and in the fourth minute Sharp clipped a cross into the penalty area from the right and Oli McBurnie’s header had to be helped over the crossbar by Tim Krul.
Norwich won a corner after 13 minutes and it should have brought them the opening goal. Ondrej Duda’s far-post cross was headed back across goal by Teemu Pukki but in attempting to clear the danger George Baldock headed the ball straight back to the Finnish international, who from inside the six-yard box lashed his shot against the outside of the post.
Daniel Farke will need to get Pukki firing again if his team are to have any chance of staying up this season, with his top scorer now without a goal since January 22.
Norwich were more assertive thereafter and grew into the match, although without causing Henderson any trouble.
By contrast, the Blades saw a few passes go amiss as they lost their rhythm. However, they rediscovered it again around the half-hour mark, putting the visitors under pressure with crosses into the box and a succession of corners.
The Canaries needed to weather the storm – but they were unable. John Lundstram whipped another delivery towards the six-yard box from the right and Sharp was on hand to power home the header.
Norwich were on the ropes and, following another corner, Jack O’Connell’s goalbound shot was deflected wide from just in front of the goal-line by McLean. From the resulting corner, Lundstram saw a 20-yard effort whistle narrowly wide.
Farke’s side survived until half time but not before another scare as a goalmouth scramble saw Lundstram, McBurnie and Sharp denied by some last-ditch defending.
The Norwich boss made a change at the break with Josip Drmic replacing Todd Cantwell and the substitute was involved almost straight away as he climbed above Chris Basham to send a header just wide.
The change had worked and Wilder’s side had largely been kept at arm’s length and it needed a fine piece of skill from Chris Basham to change that in the 64th minute.
The centre-back tormented McLean as Paul Gascoigne had Colin Hendry during his famous goal for England against Scotland at Euro 96, lifting the ball over his head inside the penalty area. But unlike Gascoigne, Basham’s finish was off target as he steered his shot over the crossbar.
Henderson was called into action for the first time with 11 minutes remaining and the 22-year-old showed why he is being spoken about as a potential England number one for this summer’s European Championships.
Emiliano Buendia’s corner was met with a thumping header by Ben Godfrey but, under pressure from Mario Vrancic sliding in, Henderson got down by his post to make the save, before reacting to keep out Vrancic’s effort on his goalline.
The rebound fell to Drmic and he looked certain to equalise, but Henderson was there again with lightening fast reactions, before a combination of David McGoldrick and the crossbar thwarted Drmic for a second time from a yard out.
It was Norwich’s big chance and they failed to take it. Jamal Lewis was next to be denied by Henderson shortly afterwards with a volley from an acute angle.
The tension inside Bramall Lane was growing as Wilder’s team, comfortable for much of the match, were hanging on. But the Blades saw it out for another precious three points.