Shortly before kick-off, the first Norwich side to win promotion to the top division, Ron Saunders' team of 1971-2, paraded around Carrow Road. The goalkeeper, Kevin Keelan, came all the way from Florida for the occasion and for 70 minutes would have backed himself to keep a clean sheet.
Actually he would have backed himself not to get his knees dirty as a tedious midfield scrap yielded a bare handful of chances, none of which either side were good enough to take. It looked as though Norwich's run of six games without a win, during which they had scored just two goals and slipped to the fringes of the play-off zone, was set to continue.
Football's saving grace on such occasions is the chance, however faint, that the game might suddenly explode. Nine times out of 10 of course it expires like a damp squib, but this was one of those occasions when the crowd's patience was rewarded, three goals in breathless minutes representing fireworks that in the circumstances would have done credit to Gandalf.
The man responsible was City's Darren Kenton, a classy central defender currently playing out of position at left-back. Having played the ball into the area to David Nielsen, Kenton kept running and was on hand to pick up the loose ball when Nielsen was tackled by United's Robert Page. The shot with which he beat Simon Tracey in the Sheffield goal was more prod than drive, but it was good enough.
As was his header from Phil Mulryne's corner two minutes later, which, were it not for Nielsen's distracting attempt to help it on its way, would surely have been either saved or kicked off the line. Having enjoyed the majority of possession United looked stunned by the injustice of it all, but gained an immediate lift courtesy of Michael Brown's rousing left-foot drive from 25 yards.
"I can't believe we're 13 points behind Norwich," the United manager, Neil Warnock, said. "If we still had hopes for the play-offs I thought we had to win today. We were by far the better side but I'd rather we'd been bad and won."
The Norwich manager Nigel Worthington saw things differently. "Not the best of games but we stuck to our task and deserved to come out on top," he said. His praise for the impressive Kenton, whom he fined two weeks wages before Christmas for breaking a curfew, was rather less fulsome. "I hope the penny drops because he's got the ability to go all the way," he said.
Goals: Kenton (72) 1-0; Kenton (74) 2-0; Brown (77) 2-1.
Norwich City: Green, Kenton, Mackay, Fleming, Nedergaard, Rivers (Mulryne, 68), Holt, A Roberts, McVeigh, Libbra (Notman, 69), Nielsen. Substitutes not used: Crichton (gk), Sutch, Llewellyn.
Sheffield United: Tracey, Uhlenbeek, Curle, Page, Ullathorne, Brown, Ford, Devlin, Tonge (Montgomery, 78), Asaba (D'Jaffo, 86), Ndlovu (Peschisolido, 78). Substitutes not used: De Vogt (gk), Sandford.
Referee: D Gallagher (Oxfordshire).
Bookings: Norwich City Kenton, Libbra, Fleming, Nielsen. Sheffield United Asaba, Ford, Page.
Man of the match: Kenton.
Attendance: 17,348.Reuse content