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Leeds bounce back with dramatic win over Norwich
Monday, 14th Mar 2022 22:18 by Tim Whelan

Leeds made hard work of beating the Premier League’s bottom side, but sheer determination eventually carried us to this vital win over Norwich City.

Jesse March made three changes to his starting line-up, one of them enforced by the season-ending injury that Firpo suffered on Thursday night. Dallas moved to left-back while Ayling resumed his normal position on the right and Llorente returned to the centre of the defence. Kilch was back in for Koch, but perhaps the most significant change was up front, with Bamford making his first start for ages in place of Harrison.

All the above meant that we could start the game with all eleven players occupying their best positions, and we looked much the better for it. Our attack was far more potent with Bamford as the focal point, occupying defenders and giving space for his colleagues arriving with supporting runs, and this was responsible for the number of chances we created during the first half.

Leeds certainly needed a big improvement on Thursday night’s debacle against Villa, and we made a lively start. Though there was an anxious moment when Dan James clumsily went into a challenge inside the area, but on that occasion Stuart Atwell refrained from pointing to the spot, and the VAR man saw nothing to cause him to overrule the decision. And after 14 minutes we carved out the opening goal of the game.

Llorente sent a long ball downfield as Bamford raced through the centre. Kabak got to it, but his clearing header was chested down by James, and fell nicely for Rodrigo. The Spaniard’s shot came off the back of Gibson’s heel and curled into the far corner beyond the reach of Krul. Such was Rodrigo’s delight at scoring after being lambasted for his performance on Thursday that he raced along the touchline and begged all the substitutes to join him in the celebration.

Dean Smith would later moan that with the old interpretation of the offside law it would have been offside. Bamford was about a foot beyond the last man when the initial ball was played, but he was not deemed to be interfering with play as he wasn’t close enough to the through ball to make a challenge. Yet it was his presence that caused Kabak to rush his clearing header, as otherwise he could have just let the ball run through to Krul.

Be that as it may, Leeds continued to dominate and the chances kept coming. Raphinha jinked inside two defenders as he cut inside, then played a long ball to the opposite corner of the area, where Bamford brought it under control. Bamford then curled it into the six yard box as Raphinha continued his run, where the Brazilian stretched to reach the ball with his shin, but could only divert it onto the underside of the bar.

Then Struijk missed two chances from close range that were much easier. The Norwich defence allowed him a free header at a corner but he sent it too close to Tim Krul, and he could only put the rebound over the bar. Struijk wins quite a few balls when he goes up for set pieces, but will have to learn how to send it in the right direction if he’s going to add to the single goal of his Leeds career.

And just before half time Bamford reminded us of some of his barren spells of the Championship years, when Raphinha put him through with only Krul to beat, but his finish looked far too casual and went a couple of feet wide of the post. Perhaps that was down to tiredness, as he was replaced during the interval after deciding that he couldn’t continue at this stage of his comeback.

So after a half when we created enough good chances to have sealed the game already, we had to revert to the makeshift option of playing James as a striker, with Harrison coming on to operate down the left. But initially that didn’t seem to upset us, as we continued to dominate the game in the early stages of the second period.

Williams lost the ball to a combination for Klich and Forshaw, and Raphinha collected. He played a one-two with Rodrigo, then beat Gibson and when his shot came back off Krul’s legs James put the ball in the net from close range. But it was ruled out as he’d strayed into an offside position before Raphinha’s shot, having continued his run while Raphinha slowed to get past Gibson.

Then Klich blocked a clearance and the ball fell to James, who carried it to the edge of the area and curled it towards the far corner, only for Krul to make the save. Then Rodrigo was replaced by Koch, which I thought was odd at the time when the Spaniard had been playing well, but I now know the change was made because Rodrigo has felt a tightening behind his knee and needed to come off.

But the result was that the line-up was now a little more defensive, and though that might have helped to protect the lead we had, in fact we just invited a bit more pressure as we started to drop deeper. I started to worry if it was going to end up like one of those games from Bielsa’s Championship seasons which we would dominate but miss chances that would put the game out of sight, with the opposition managing to nick a late goal.

Sure enough, Norwich came into the game in the last 20 minutes. Meslier saved from Pukki but Leeds failed to clear, with Rowe eventually sending a shot against the crossbar. The linesman then flagged for offside, though the TV replay suggested that the goal would have stood had the ball gone in, the offside being for a player who touched the ball after it had hit the bar. But on 77 minutes we seemed to have presented Norwich with the chance to draw level.

Pukki held off Llorente’s challenge and Rashica fell over Ayling’s leg after our full-back had gone to ground in front of him. But the replay showed that Rashica had actually trod on Ayling’s leg before going to ground. It wasn’t the first time that a member of a Dean Smith side has gone down quite easily at Elland Road, as we’ve noticed that tendency during visits by Brentford and Villa in recent times, which may not be a coincidence.

The referee gave the penalty but was asked to go over to the monitor, and we might have come close to needing a VAR check within the VAR check. Several Norwich players surrounded the referee while he looked at the screen (as they’re not supposed to do) and a bit of a scuffle developed as Dan James got involved. The result of all that was yellow cards for James and Aarons, and the penalty being overturned.

Another opportunity to seal the game arrived when Harrison jinked past several defenders before being brought down by a rash challenge, giving us a free kick 25 yards out in a prime position for a left-footer. Raphinha stepped up and got it over the wall, but it just clipped the bar, though it’s possible that Krul might have got to the ball had it been on target.

As we came up to 90 minutes it looked like the early goal was going to be enough, but six minutes injury time were announced, with most of it due to the length of time it took to sort out the VAR decision. And a minute later we got that familiar sinking feeling, as Norwich grabbed an equaliser. Pukki raced to get the ball just before it crossed the byline and as he sent it across the face of goal, McLean nipped in front of Llorente to score from close range.

We seemed to have thrown away two vital points when we desperately needed a win, in what theoretically was our easiest fixture of the whole campaign. But Marsch still had one card to play, and Gelhardt went on in place of Klich in the desperate search for a winner in the time that remained. And so it came to pass.

Meslier launched the ball downfield, and Gelhardt outjumped a player a good four inches taller to head it into the path of Raphinha. The Brazilian beat a defender and took it past Krul, but a slightly heavy touch gave him a very narrow angle for a shot. But Gelhardt had continued his run, and hammered the ball into the net as the Brazilian picked him out.

Cue for absolute pandemonium around Elland Road as Dallas jumped on top of the celebrating pack in front of the Kop/West Stand corner, and even Meslier ran the full length of the field to join in. Grown men hugged each other in every home part of the stadium, and Victor Orta was reduced to tears up in the posh seats.

Amidst the euphoria I clean forgot that we still had another two minutes to play, but even then we nearly managed to throw it all away. Krul went up for a last minute free kick, which might have distracted the defence as the ball fell to Pukki. He only had Meslier to beat, but our noble keeper spread himself to beat the ball away, and thirty seconds later the three points were finally ours.

What a difference three days makes. Less than 72 hours after a half-empty Elland Road, there were scenes of rejoicing as ‘I predict a riot’ boomed around the stadium. If we hadn’t won we’d have slipped further into trouble on a day when Watford’s surprise win would have put us under further pressure. But now we look a little more secure, as Everton lost and Burnley would now have to win both their games in hand to overtake us.

OK, we’ve still got a lot to do and it was only Norwich that we beat, but this does at least give us something to build on and Marsch is working out how to get the best out of this team. If we do avoid relegation at the end of the season we could well be looking back on this game as the one that stopped the rot and began the run that took us to safety.


Reuters



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