Surprise package Sheffield United continue their European push at Bramall Lane on Saturday when they host relegation-threatened and last-place Norwich City.
The Blades (10-10-7) have hit the first milestone of every promoted side – 40 points, which almost guarantees safety in the top flight for a second consecutive season. Chris Wilder’s team, though, still have 11 matches to make their return truly memorable as they enter this contest just five points back of fourth-place Chelsea and two behind Manchester United and Wolves for fifth – a spot that could be good enough for Champions League qualifying rounds depending on Manchester City’s appeal of its two-year ban from European play to CAS.
Chris Wilder’s team also has progressed to the final eight of the FA Cup, edging Reading 2-1 after extra time on the road Tuesday. Billy Sharp proved the hero with his goal in stoppage time of the first extra period as the Blades earned a date opposite Arsenal in a fortnight at home with a spot at Wembley at stake.
«To achieve Premier League status was brilliant for the club. Same with what we’ve done recently, and from a personal point of view I am just looking to the next challenge,» Wilder told The Star. «But this [the cup run] is an opportunity for us. Of course it is. We can’t dress it up and say anything different.
«I’m a traditionalist. Everything else comes with winning games but the be all and end all is proving it on the pitch, in any game. League or cup. We’ve got some huge tests ahead of us but anything can happen.»
Sheffield United are unbeaten in their last five in all competitions (4-1-0), and their lone blemish in the last eight (5-2-1) was a 1-0 home loss to two-time champions Manchester City.
While Sheffield United are clearly the best of the promoted trio this term, Norwich City (5-6-17) are playing more typical of a promoted side – hanging on for dear life while currently entertaining grim prospects. The Canaries, though, helped themselves immensely Feb. 28 with a 1-0 victory over third-place Leicester City, riding a 70th-minute goal by Jamal Lewis to just their second league triumph in 15 league contests (2-5-8).
They built on that momentum by also extending their FA Cup run, ousting Tottenham Hotspur on penalties Wednesday after playing Spurs to a 1-1 draw. Josip Drmic scored the equaliser on 78 minutes and keeper Tim Krul provided the penalty heroics, denying both Troy Parrott and Gedson Fernandes from the spot on either side of Todd Cantwell’s conversion.
«I can’t guarantee whether we will stay in the league,» Norwich City boss Daniel Farke told the club’s official website. «I can’t guarantee that we will win the FA Cup, but one thing is for sure – by doing this on our way we have created memories. All our supporters will remember this evening in decades.
«We started playing football not to think about the league table, but to create memories, so I’m delighted we were able to create such a fantastic night.»
Norwich City will host the winner of Thursday’s fifth-round match between Manchester United and Derby County in a fortnight. The Canaries have made FA Cup semifinals just once in club history in 1992, losing 1-0 to Sunderland at Hillsborough.
Sheffield are looking to run their unbeaten streak versus Norwich to five matches after winning 2-1 at Carrow Road in December. Enda Stevens and George Baldrock scored three minutes apart shortly after intermission, wiping out a deficit created by Alexander Tettet on 27 minutes.
Norwich City, though, have won at Bramall Lane on both occasions as a Premier League outfit.