A MAGNIFICENT second-half rally saw Leeds United salvage a point in a remarkable spectacle against Norwich City at a throbbing Elland Road - as the Whites went down fighting in their Championship play-off quest.
Trailing 3-1 after a grim first period, Leeds summoned up the strength of character, willed on by a magnificent home crowd, to restore parity thanks to goals from Kyle Bartley and Pablo Hernandez.
But there was to be no winner despite a frenzied finale and a win for Sheffield Wednesday at Ipswich Town, coupled with Fulham’s draw with Brentford, means that the Whites’ are playing for little other than pride at Wigan next weekend.
With Fulham - three points ahead of Garry Monk’s side - holding a vastly superior goal difference to Leeds, United’s campaign is unfortunately finished as a competitive entity.
Pre-match talk had centred on Leeds hoping for favours from Ipswich and Brentford, but unfortunately the Whites veered badly off script and palpably failed to keep their side of the bargain in one of those mistake-ridden, awful first halves that the hosts have thrown in from time to time during their Championship stint.
It yielded a 3-1 deficit, with Norwich dining out, almost on will, on the carcass of Leeds’ fast fading season in the final 15 minutes of the first half.
An uneventful opening half-hour in which Leeds pieced together nothing truly of note burst into life with an unfortunate development in the hosts half, with Alex Pritchard teeing up Steven Naismith, afforded far time much time and space before firing home a unstoppable shot past Robert Green on 28 minutes.
Increasingly looking leggy and mentally frazzled, Leeds lost their way badly and a curler from Nelson Oliveira almost doubled the Canaries’ lead soon after.
But the Portuguese did not have long to wait for a more definitive contribution, with Leeds undressed down their left and Josh Murphy’s low cross picking him out for a tap-in.
The afternoon assumed nightmare proportions on 45 minutes when Oliveira was supplied adeptly by ex-Whites captain Jonny Howson and he was given the freedom of the box before curling home a neat strike past the exposed Green.
From the kick-off, Leeds were afforded an inkling of hope when Norwich switched off to allow Wood to volley home following Stuart Dallas’s cross, but the disgruntled reaction of the home supporters at half-time told everything about a wholly unsatisfactory United performance.
Monk may have spoken about Leeds not being ‘gung ho’ ahead of the game, but given their dire half-time predicament, the hosts were forced to throw the equivalent of the kitchen sink at Norwich with their season very much on the line.
Thankfully, the endeavour shown at the start of the second period was infinitely greater than the first period, with a raucous crowd of 34,292 buying into their efforts.
Hernandez spurned a good early chance before Leeds, willed on by the Kop, reduced the arrears.
Pontus Jansson got a connection to Hernandez’s corner and amid the pandemonium in the box, Bartley was on hand to bundle home and inspire hopes of a shock reprieve.
Norwich looked somewhat rocky at the back, but a vital block from Geatano Berardi prevented Naismith from racing clear and Green denied Oliveira before play switched to the other end.
John Ruddy did well to block Kemar Roofe’s close range volley following Eunan O’Kane’s fine centre.
Forced to throw bodies forward, Leeds were susceptible to the counter and Green got his angles right to deny Ivo Pinto before making a splendid block to prevent Oliveira from getting his hat-trick, with Mitchell Dijks blasting the loose ball over.
With the clock increasingly not United’s friend, parity was restored in sublime fashion to set up a grandstand finale 11 minutes from time.
Graham Dorrans fouled Berardi and Hernandez made capital with his wonderful free-kick flying past Ruddy to the delight of the Kop.
Norwich found themselves reduced to ten men when Naismith was dismissed for a late challenge on Ronaldo Vieira, but despite their numerical advantage, Leeds couldn’t find a winner.
Leeds United: Green; Ayling (Pedraza 72), Bartley, Jansson, Berardi; Vieira, O’Kane (Phillips 81); Roofe, Hernandez, Dallas (Doukara 62); Wood. Substitutes unused: Peacock-Farrell, Taylor, Coyle, Phillips, Sacko.
Norwich City: Ruddy; Pinto, Bennett, Martin, Dijks; Dorrans, Howson; Naismith, Pritchard, Josh Murphy (Klose 90); Oliveira (Jerome 83). Substitutes unused: Jones, Whittaker, Wildschut, Jacob Murphy, Maddison.
Referee: T Harrington (Cleveland).