Leeds United 2 Norwich City 1: ‘A big step forward’ for struggling Whites

Of all the ways to describe Leeds United’s 2-1 win over Norwich City, “beautiful” was not one of them. It just felt that way to every home fan at 3.55pm yesterday.

The significance of a victory the word dramatic did not come close to doing justice to was two-fold. If ending a sequence of six consecutive defeats to give Jesse Marsch his first win as coach was a shot of adrenaline straight into the heart, how it came about was a full-blooded, steel-toecapped kick in the unmentionables relegation rivals Norwich could struggle to get up from.

Marsch chuckled afterwards about taking the full-time emotions to “his deathbed” without a shred of guilt for nearly prematurely putting some onto theirs. Ever the drama queen, director of football Victor Orta was in tears.

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The American coach called it “a big step forward – not just points but clarity on the pitch tactically.” He did well to spot much clarity in the marvellous maelstrom.

Leeds United's Rodrigo, Raphinha and Jack Harrison embrace at the final whistle. Pictures: Tony Johnson

“Regardless (of the result), the performance warranted a positive feeling,” Marsch added.

If Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool play “heavy metal football” this was death metal with a guitar-smashing, amp-exploding finale. Post-Marcelo Bielsa chaos theory still rules at Elland Road.

As Chelsea and Newcastle United fans were exchanging banter about who had the least despicable owners in a very 21 Century Premier League way, this was throwback stuff rebadged as “vertical football”. It had the odd flourish but by and large, Leeds’s play was rough around the edges.

Given the choice between sophisticated refinement and raw unadulterated passion, most English fans will say you can stick the former. Elland Road certainly thought that way as it yelled along to I Predict a Riot at full-time.

Rodrigo celebrates his first-half goal. Picture: Tony Johnson

When Patrick Bamford gestured to his team-mates to calm down, it was going against everything Leeds did for the opening half-hour. Needless to say, they ignored him. By full-time, though, their manic movements qualified as calm and controlled.

The sheer intensity of Leeds’s football created mistakes, more by Norwich than themselves. After Rodrigo opened the scoring the Whites’ litany of missed chances included two against the crossbar from Raphinha but Norwich’s Jon Rowe had one of his own and the Canaries were awarded a penalty overturned when video assistant referee Mike Dean told Stuart Attwell to look at the monitor.

So when Kenny McLean tapped in a Teemu Pukki pull-back as Joe Gelhardt prepared to come on and fourth official Chris Kavanagh raised his board to show six added minutes, it looked like for the second time in Marsch’s first three matches, Leeds’s inability to finish had cost them.

But when Gelhardt headed on an Illan Meslier punt, Raphinha not only recognised how wide Tim Krul forced him to dribble but also that this had not been his day in front of goal and crossed for Gelhardt to tap in his second senior goal for Leeds.

Jack Harrison chases Joe Gelhardt celebrating his late late winner. Picture: Tony Johnson

It was fitting reward for furious football that prized pace and persistence over precision and purity. Before going off with a tight quad muscle Rodrigo had epitomised it, so it was only right he opened the scoring.

He played in the hole of a 4-2-3-1 like a man possessed. In the first four minutes alone he fouled Pierre Lees-Melou and Brandon Williams, and another tackle set up an attack which saw Raphinha, wide on the left, release Dan James, who had popped up from his spot narrow on the right.

Rodrigo could have been booked for one of those fouls, as could Adam Forshaw when he fouled then pulled Williams back in the ninth minute.

Rodrigo’s energy got what it deserved in the 15th minute. Diego Llorente launched the ball for Bamford, making his first start in six months, in an offside position – something Krul and his goalkeeping coach Ed Wootten were booked for angrily pointing out – but Ozan Kabak headed clear. James picked up the second ball and Rodrigo nicked it off him and steered it inside the post.

“We all know Bamford is offside, the ball is played for Bamford, the game knows he’s offside, but the law allows him onside because he doesn’t make an attempt for the ball,” explained Norwich manager Dean Smith before heading to his daughter’s now-spoiled 19th birthday party.

Six minutes later Meslier fed Luke Ayling, whose pass to Mateusz Klich broke the press. It was worked to Raphinha whose backheel to Stuart Dallas was as gorgeous as the shot from the return pass into his own standing leg was calamitous. It fit in neatly with much of the rest of the game.

Raphinha finished another direct move by volleying against the underside of the crossbar. When Jack Harrison was fouled in the 82nd minute, he curled a free-kick onto the opposite crossbar.

Bamford blazed over after robbing Ben Gibson and playing a one-two with Raphinha, then missed woefully when played in again by him.

Krul saved James’s curling 62nd-minute shot.

Norwich soon hinted at what might befall Leeds if they kept this up, recently-introduced substitute Rowe forcing a low Meslier save then thumping against the bar.

Three minutes later, Norwich had a penalty, Attwell blowing up for Ayling’s tackle on Rashica. It was rash from the full-back but when Attwell consulted the monitor he saw the Canary brought down not by Ayling’s boot, but by standing on his leg.

Even after the teams exchanged ecstatic goals, Pukki hit a shot at Meslier. Another twist then would have stretched the craziness of the game beyond credulity.