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Relief for Leeds as Krul endures a Haloween nightmare
Monday, 1st Nov 2021 22:43 by Tim Whelan

The performance didn’t quite put the clocks back to last season, but it was enough to earn a vital win over the Premier League’s bottom club, as the horror continues for Norwich City.

For some time we’d been looking forward to this fixture as an obvious opportunity to pick up three points and start to climb the table, but irritatingly much of the press coverage had centred on Norwich, and how this was a chance to grab their first win of the season. And the stakes were raised still further on Saturday when Burnley beat Brentford to push us back into the bottom three, for 24 hours at least.

Thankfully Raphinha had recovered from the injury inflicted on him by Wolves last week, so the only change to the starting line-up was the return of Kalvin Phillips in place of Klich. Struijk was retained so we could play three central defenders, as Bielsa always does when the opposition have two strikers, and once again he tried to accommodate three wingers on a pitch that only had two wings.

The first half was pretty scrappy, with both sides working hard but visibly lacking a bit of confidence and failing to create too many chances. Leeds produced the first, as a through ball from Dallas sent James clear, but after the Welshman had rounded Tim Krul he saw his shot cleared off the line. We thought he might have been offside anyway, but the TV replay suggested that VAR might have ruled in his favour had it gone in.

Norwich’s best effort of the half was a shot on the turn from Pukki that went narrowly wide, and Normann was also close when he tried his luck from distance. (He really does spell his name ‘Normann’, he’s Norwegian, you know). Llorente headed over from a set piece, and Rodrigo shot straight into the arms of Tim Krul, but that was about it.

Our play was lacking the intensity we’ve become accustomed to under Bielsa, and Phillips was looking a bit rusty after his lay-off, with his long-range passing looking decidedly off. But we were still managing to offer a little bit more quality than the opposition, even though that’s not saying a great deal.

Norwich did manage to get a free kick on target from just outside the box, but without the power to trouble Meslier. And just like the buses, after we’d waited 56 minutes for one goal, three came along at once. First we had Raphinha’s trickery to treat us to the opener. After James’ ball had picked him out on the right I thought he’d done a bit too much as he cut inside, but his shot found it’s way past a couple of defenders and through the legs of Krul into the net.

At that point I dared to think that goal might be enough to win the game against a team who had only scored two goals all season. Er, no. We needlessly conceded a corner when Shackleton overhit a backpass, and as Meslier ran out of space by the touchline he sliced it out of play. And when the set piece came in it was met by a powerful header from Omobamidele to put the canaries level. Thank heavens for cut and paste, so I didn’t have to try to spell ‘Omobamidele’.

But Leeds were back in front only two minutes later after Struijk won the ball in the Norwich half and Phillips played the ball to Rodrigo. The Spaniard tried his luck from 25 yards, and Krul will be haunted by another mistake, as the ball went underneath him into the net. We could have been spooked by a VAR check after Raphinha had moved across the flight of the ball in an offside position, but the man at Stockley park decided that hadn’t been enough to put Krul off.

And after that we managed to avoid any more daft errors and it never looked like Norwich were going to summon up the quality to prize us open. Bielsa was forced to make his first change when Shackleton limped off, but Drameh was on hand as a specialist right back, and so his Premier League debut followed his impressive performance in the cup during the week.

The second change saw Forshaw coming on for James as a more physical presence to shore things up in midfield, and although many of us would like to have seen Gelhardt get another run out, the final sub was the rather pointless introduction of Roberts in place of Rodrigo in the 88th minute. There were five minutes of injury time to endure, but we managed to get through that with no further alarms to register our first away win of the season.

And after the game Raphinha was quick to respond to Krul’s 2019 jibe that we’re not Barcelona. The Brazilian maestro Instagrammed “No, we are not Barcelona. We are Leeds United!” we wouldn’t want to be the Catalan giants in their current state, and even as we are we were still too good for Krul’s club.

But I have seen another social media comment that this performance wouldn’t have been good enough to beat anyone other than Norwich, and Bielsa’s lack of reaction showed that he knows he’s still got a lot of work to do, despite this result. But at least we’re back out of the bottom three, and we’re only beneath Watford and Villa on goal difference, amidst much gloating at the sight of Dean Smith’s mob dropping into trouble.

Let’s hope we can build on this victory next Sunday when we face another side struggling for form, in the shape of Leicester City. MOT!


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