Sheffield United 1, Norwich City 0
David Cuffley Norwich City slipped further into trouble in the Championship table with another defeat on the road at the hands of promotion-chasing Sheffield United.
Norwich City slipped further into trouble in the Championship table with another defeat on the road at the hands of promotion-chasing Sheffield United.
The only goal, after 17 minutes, by Darius Henderson condemned the Canaries to their ninth defeat in their last 10 away league games.
Henderson was given the freedom of Sheffield to head home from a cross by Danny Webber to mark his return from a three match ban.
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Wes Hoolahan almost levelled for Norwich four minutes before the break when he struck the crossbar with a header from Mark Fotheringham's cross.
A fine double save by David Marshall from Henderson after 63 minutes kept the Canaries in the contest and they staged something of a grandstand finish when Arturo Lupoli struck the post with a header five minutes from time before Gary Doherty forced United goalkeeper Paddy Kenny into a vital save.
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City lost striker Antoine Sibierski when he was stretchered off on the hour and, with just two matches left of his loan spell, it remains to be seen whether he will feature again before returning to Wigan.
Victories for Nottingham Forest and Southampton further piled the pressure on manager Glenn Roeder and his team, who now lead third from bottom Southampton only on goal difference.
City showed four changes to the side that started last week's FA Cup tie at Charlton.
Jonathan Grounds, back for a second loan spell from Middlesbrough, returned in the centre of defence in place of Adam Drury.
Jon Ostemobor was preferred to Elliott Omozusi at right-back after replacing him at half-time at The Valley.
Darel Russell was suspended and Matty Pattison was ruled out by a dead leg, so Wes Hoolahan and Arturo Lupoli, both of whom were impressive as substitutes at Charlton, were rewarded with a place in the starting 11.
Sheffield United also showed four changes from their last match against Charlton 13 days ago.
Paddy Kenny was back in goal instead of Ian Bennett, and David Cotterill returned in place of Nathan Dyer, whose loan spell from Southampton has ended. Midfielder Brian Howard was relegated to the bench and striker James Beattie was talking over a �2.5 million move to Stoke, so Billy Sharp returned to the side and striker Darius Henderson was back after a three match ban.
City kicked off on a bitterly cold afternoon in South Yorkshire, badly in need of some success away from home after losing eight of the previous nine league games on their travels.
Lupoli was soon into the action when he burst away down the left and his cross towards Sibierski was cut out by Kilgallon at the expense of a corner. Clingan took an inswinging kick but between them, the United defenders managed to get the ball away.
A powerful header by Morgan very nearly put Sharp clear of the City defence, but Marshall raced out to collect before the little striker could take advantage.
As Norwich attacked again, Croft swung in a teasing cross from the right which Kenny gathered just under the bar.
A couple of misplaced passes in the United defence enabled Sibierski to find Lupoli on the edge of the penalty area, but he was crowded out as he tried to make room for a shot.
Hoolahan then tried to send Lupoli away with a 40-yard pass and this time it was Kilgallon who did just enough to get the better of the City striker.
Doherty had to be alert in the early stages and after cutting out a Naughton through ball one minute, he was on the end of a cross from Webber the next.
The first decent shot of the afternoon came after 10 minutes when Quinn struck a left-foot volley but Marshall was right behind it.
United won their first corner after 11 minutes when Bertrand tackled Cotterill, but the winger's flag-kick was too deep and the Canaries were able to clear easily.
There was a real escape for the visitors two minutes later when they struggled to deal with a throw-in and Quinn struck another left-foot volley which crashed against the bar and rebounded to safety.
Sibierski appeared to be in a bit of trouble when he went down clutching his side after a challenge by Kilgallon, but after a word from the referee, he was able to continue without treatment.
There was a major blow for the Canaries in the 17th minute when the home side went ahead with the simplest of goals.
Webber took possession on the left and had plenty of time and space to curl a right-foot cross towards the far post, where the unmarked Henderson beat Marshall with a straightforward header.
Two minutes later, Kenny was brought into the action when a long throw by City was cleared only as far as Sibierski, but the big Frenchman could get no real power into his header and the keeper made a comfortable catch.
United won a free-kick midway into the Norwich half when Grounds was penalised for handball. Quinn took the kick, but it was a poor one and Doherty headed clear.
With a quarter of the match gone, City had not seriously threatened the United goal and there was a lack of zip in their passing, despite the efforts of Hoolahan to get things moving.
Another lapse at the back allowed Henderson through and he let fly with a left-foot shot from outside the area which Marshall had to dive to his right to push round the post for a corner.
A foul by Quinn on Hoolahan gave City a free-kick in the United half but in trying to take it quickly, they made a complete hash of it and instead conceded possession.
City, Doherty apart, looked none too certain at the back and the home crowd were becoming frustrated at the fact that United had not done more to take advantage, with several moves breaking down on the edge of the area.
Norwich were presented with a corner after 31 minutes after an error by Morgan, who tried to let Doherty's header run through to Kenny, but instead the ball rolled down his back and over the byline before Kenny could retrieve it.
The flag-kick by Clingan produced a scramble in the six-yard box with Doherty attempting to get in a header but failing to make clean contact and Croft finally poking a shot wide as he slid in at the far post.
Croft, reported to be a target for the Blades, got past Naysmith with one impressive burst of speed but then spoiled the opening when he put his cross straight into the crowd.
Otsemobor conceded another corner when he cut out a cross from Naysmith and Quinn's kick was met by a diving header by Kilgallon, but he was wide of the target.
A foul on Fotheringham gave City another dead ball opportunity close to the right touchline and Otsemobor aimed the free-kick towards Lupoli, but Kenny made a clean catch after timing his jump perfectly.
A foul by Doherty on Henderson resulted in another United free-kick 10-yards into the Norwich half, but the centre-half made amends by heading clear from Quinn's ball into the Norwich area.
An excellent by Quinn found Henderson on the United right but this time it was Grounds who managed to get back and head clear.
Four minutes before the interval, City were desperately close to equalising when Fotheringham crossed from the right and Hoolahan met his centre on the bounce with a header which struck the crossbar and bounced away.
It was certainly the closest City had come to getting back on terms.
The home crowd were very impatient with their team's efforts to increase their lead and there was a chorus of groans when Naughton pushed forward but failed to deliver any kind of cross.
Cotterill did better moments later with a twisting run into Norwich territory and a cross which, inevitably, Doherty cleared with a diving header.
With one minute of stoppage time played Lupoli was put clear with a chance to level but his left-foot shot was beaten away by Kenny.
t Half-time: Sheffield United 1, Norwich City 0
There was a moment of alarm for City in the opening minute of the second half when Doherty misjudged the bounce going for a header and Sharp got away from Grounds and managed to squeeze in a shot low to Marshall's right, but the keeper held on.
Still United pressed and Grounds did well to head clear from a Sharp cross.
Lupoli earned a quiet word from the referee because of his efforts to get Naughton to take a throw-in more quickly when the fullback seemed to be wasting time.
Three minutes into the half, Grounds tangled with Henderson on the edge of the Norwich area and the United man was still protesting about a raised arm when Webber wriggled his way into the danger zone and Sharp had a close-range effort deflected for a corner.
City were under pressure as the Blades forced two corners in quick succession but the visitors survived and were soon counter attacking through Croft. The winger aimed a cross towards Sibierski, but Morgan just got there first and managed to head the ball back to Kenny.
A stumble by Kilgallon almost allowed Croft to get away as City broke again, but the defender recovered well and in the end conceded a throw-in.
Both sides were guilty of some sloppy passing at this stage and a particularly bad example by Quinn enabled Hoolahan to break, but as he tried to play Lupoli through, Morgan produced an excellent recovery tackle.
With 12 minutes of the second half gone, Sibierski was in some trouble after going down five-yards outside the United area and it was goalkeeper Kenny who drew the referee's attention to the Frenchman's injury.
A stretcher was called for and there was a delay as physio Simon Spencer and medical staff attended to the player before he was carried off.
With an hour gone, winger Bell was sent on in Sibierski's place.
Bell took up a position wide on the left with Hoolahan moving into a more central role alongside Lupoli, giving the Canaries a rather lightweight attack, although Cort was limbering up on the touchline.
After 63 minutes, the Canaries were kept in the match by a double save by Marshall.
Sharp crossed from the right and Henderson looked certain to score his second with a header which Marshall kept out at point-blank range and he went one better by getting his body behind Henderson's follow-up effort.
United made their first change with just over 25 minutes to go when the on-loan Stokes replaced Cotterill.
Midway through the half, Stokes got involved for the first time when he teed up a shot for Quinn, but the midfielder fired over the top from just outside the Norwich area.
City were under pressure again when Clingan was caught in possession by Quinn, who in turn sent Stokes clear, but when his cross reached the edge of the six-yard box, United over elaborated and Sharp's header was eventually diverted wide for a corner, from which Marshall was just about able to claw the ball away.
With just under 20 minutes to go, United boss Blackwell made his second change by replacing Webber with Halford.
There was a bit more urgency about Norwich and when Otsemobor's cross was headed clear, Clingan played a one-two with Fotheringham before striking a powerful right-foot shot which was deflected wide for a corner.
The flag-kick merely led a swift counter attack by United, however, with Sharp getting on the end of Halford's cross but missing the target.
A cross by Hoolahan almost unlocked the door for City after 77 minutes, but Lupoli was unable to get in a header and Croft, following up, saw his powerful right-foot shot blocked just a few yards out.
With just over 10 minutes to go, the Blades made their last change with Howard introduced and Sharp withdrawn.
City were certainly trying to find a way back into the contest and with five minutes remaining, they almost got on terms when Bell crossed from the left and Lupoli produced a glancing header which struck the foot of Kenny's left-hand post.
A corner from Quinn caused more problems in the City defence and the pressure was still on when United won a free-kick midway into the Norwich half.
Quinn's kick was headed clear, giving Halford the chance to propel a long throw into the penalty area, but Otsemobor managed to close down Stokes and the visitors looked for one last push forward.
A foul by Howard on Bertrand right in front of the dugouts earned him a yellow card as the minutes ticked away.
As the game entered four minutes of stoppage time, Doherty, pushed into the attack, got his toe to a cross from Bell and Kenny had to dive to his right to stop the ball creeping just inside the post.
It was a lively finish by the Canaries and there were appeals for a penalty when Halford cut out Lupoli's cross. United squandered a good opening deep into stoppage time when Naughton over-hit his cross from the right with Howard perfectly placed in the six-yard box but unable to reach it. At the other end, Bell cut in from the left but Kenny was right behind his right-foot shot.
t Result: Sheffield United 1, Norwich City 0
t Sheff Utd: Kenny, Naughton, Morgan, Kilgallon, Naysmith, Sharp, Montgomery, Cotterill, Quinn, Webber, Henderson
Subs: Halford, Stokes, Hendrie, Jihai, Howard
t Norwich City: Marshall, Otsemobor, Doherty, Grounds, Bertrand, Croft, Clingan, Fotheringham, Hoolahan, Lupoli, Sibierski
Subs: Nelson, Drury, Bell, Omozusi, Cort
t Referee: Mark Halsey (Lancashire)