It’s a tale of two cities – and they are poles apart

Tough times for Grant Hanley at Bramall Lane 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Tough times for Grant Hanley at Bramall Lane Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

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Melissa Rudd: Norwich City and Sheffield United - a tale of two cities that are poles apart

It's little wonder both sides were looking and feeling a bit 'leggy' on Saturday, given that both Norwich and Sheffield United had to play 120 minutes to reach their FA Cup quarter-final during the week.

City's heroics at Spurs will live long in the memory, and given the exertions of Wednesday's night's nail-biting win perhaps many of us had lowered our expectations against a team challenging for the top six.

While the dream of a trip to Wembley for both clubs is now more than just a fantasy, there is a much greater mix of emotions as far as the Premier League is concerned.

Norwich finished five points ahead of the Blades last season, yet now find themselves 22 points below them in the table. That Chris Wilder's troops are in the mix for a Champions League place while Norwich stare down the barrel of a swift return to the Championship is a difficult pill to swallow.

The frustration was clear for City skipper Grant HanleyThe frustration was clear for City skipper Grant Hanley

Saturday's fixture was City's last chance to win points against a fellow promoted team. Those games may only represent four out of 38, but it's an indication of why City find themselves rock bottom.

Wilder's post-match comments that his side 'were good in both boxes' doesn't just sum up the contrast between the sides on one afternoon, it has been a systematic difference between them all season. Six of Sheffield United's 11 wins have been by a 1-0 scoreline and their goal difference is 32 better.

Twenty of the 22 players who started Saturday's game played for their respective clubs last season, yet their transfer budgets were hardly comparable.

Wilder has benefited from £60m worth of reinforcements to his promotion-winning squad. United broke their transfer record for the fourth time this season with January's £20m signing of Norweigan international Sander Berge.

The Blades haven't gone on a wild spending spree, they haven't done a so-called 'Fulham' or a 'Villa'. They have recruited timely and sensibly, adding depth and competition to last season's Championship squad.

If Farke had been afforded the same luxury, it's hard to see how the gap between the two sides would be as evident. Saturday was the 10th time in 15 games that his side have failed to score away from home.

When City have scored on the road in the Premier League, it has come courtesy of Teemu Pukki on every occasion bar one, when Dennis Srbeny scored the second in November's win at Everton.

But having scored just twice in his last 12 appearances, and gone six games without a goal, Pukki is going through his worst period in a Norwich shirt. It has been 12 games since he scored from open play, and his first-half strike that came off the post at Bramall Lane is the kind of chance he would've buried at the start of the season.

Having struggled with injury since joining, Josip Drmic has actually been an integral part of City's FA Cup run. His goals away at Burnley and Tottenham, both of the poacher's variety, prove that he can find the net against Premier League opposition at crucial stages of the game.

He did get the opportunity to partner Pukki up front when Norwich switched to a 4-4-2 diamond formation at half-time in Yorkshire, and although it didn't force a result it does at least show Farke is willing to switch things up in the final throes of the campaign.

Dean Henderson's wonder saves that preserved the home side's lead in the second half come down to City falling foul of those very fine margins yet again. But while the number of matches where that phrase is applicable racks up, the margin between Norwich staying up and getting relegated seems to increase.

The encouraging statistic for the Canaries this weekend is that for a second successive home game they face a team very out of sorts.

Despite a rally over Christmas and January that saw them climb well away from the drop zone, Southampton have now lost four of their last five in the league.

A positive result would be perfect preparation for the visit of Manchester United, which feels like a match of far greater significance given a first FA Cup semi-final in 28 years is at stake.

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