NORWICH CITY’S last visit to Elland Road was pure footballing theatre.
For Leeds United, the script demanded all three points be claimed to keep alive any hope of qualifying for the play-offs.
What a sold out home crowd got, however, was the high farce of the Canaries flying into a three-goal lead inside 45 minutes that, if anything, flattered a desperate Leeds.
A place in the top six that, just four weeks earlier, was theirs to lose had, it seemed, been thrown away. Then, though, Chris Wood netted his 29th goal of the season deep into first-half stoppage-time and, suddenly, 34,000 fans had a spectacle to watch.
Kyle Bartley reduced the deficit further early in the second half, meaning when Pablo Hernandez equalised with 12 minutes remaining the noise levels rose so high it was tempting to believe the racket could be heard 200 miles away in London where sixth-placed Fulham were being held at home by Brentford.
A red card for Norwich’s Steven Naismith plus a generous eight minutes of stoppage-time brought further drama, but, despite throwing everything at the visitors, Garry Monk’s men could not conjure up a winner. It meant, as the curtain came down on another home campaign at Elland Road, United’s play-off hopes were at an end.
In many ways, those often chaotic 90 minutes last April neatly summed up a 46-game season that promised so much for a side who entertained and thrilled in equal measure only to then fluff their lines at the finish.
Memories of that bizarre afternoon will flood back today when Norwich return to the West Riding.
As with a little under seven months ago, United sit seventh in the Championship table after an opening few months that have seen form swing from a hugely encouraging seven-game unbeaten start to the misery of losing seven out of nine in the autumn.
Since that horror run, head coach Thomas Christiansen’s men have rallied to collect ten points from five outings ,but this up-and-down form has inevitably led to comparisons with last season. Captain Liam Cooper, however, rebuffs such talk. “There was a wobble in form, but the team came through it,” says the Hull-born defender to The Yorkshire Post.
“We have shown that in the last few games. These wobbles come during a season, that is a fact of life in the Championship.
“What matters is how you react. I find that you learn a lot about yourself and your team-mates during times when things maybe don’t go in your favour.
“We have put that run behind us, got some decent results, and everyone is looking forward. What happened in the past doesn’t count, be it this season or last season.
“The lads are always learning every week as it brings that bit more experience each time. If we are on it from the start of every game we will beat anyone in this league.”
Leeds may understandably want to draw a line under last season, but the table at the corresponding stage 12 months does make very similar reading for the Elland Road club.
Where a year ago United had 35 points from 21 games and were sitting sixth, this time around they are one place and two points worse off. What has significantly improved this term, though, is their goals tally and the number of players who have found the net.
Chris Wood accounted for 12 of the 25 times Leeds had found the opposition net a year ago, with only Souleymane Doukara (3) and Kyle Bartley (2) boasting more than one goal.
This term Kemar Roofe has six league goals to his name following last weekend’s hat-trick at Queens Park Rangers in the race for the Elland Road ‘Golden Boot’ with no fewer than four players having netted five times apiece.
It suggests a more rounded team under Christiansen than was the case last term, something that surely has to stand Leeds in good stead.
A good festive period will also help and, in that respect, the fixture list looks as kind as one in the ultra-competitive Championship can be.
Starting with last weekend’s trip to QPR, a nine-game run will include meetings with six of the bottom nine clubs. Of those, Hull City will, subject to either club’s involvement in the FA Cup fourth round, meet Leeds twice.
“This time of year is always a great one to hit form,” adds Hull-born Cooper. “
The games come thick and fast and the Championship is a league where if you win two or three on the bounce then you are catapulted right back up the table.
“If you lose a few you can go down, but the wins then turn it around. That is what we have been finding these past few weeks.”
Asked what had changed in recent weeks to spark the turnaround in form that has seen only leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers get the better of Leeds since the last international break, Cooper replies: “We haven’t been working on anything different since the results changed. Tactically, from day one, the manager came in and knew how he wanted us to set up.
“Teams like Aston Villa in our last home game don’t tend to play out too much. That allowed us to press them high and for long periods it worked.
“The big challenge for us is getting up for every game. That is what we put on ourselves. The boys are gaining experience every week about the league and putting that to good use.
“We love playing at home. The fans are always with us.
“You are not going to play well every game, life doesn’t work like that.
“But one thing you can do is give your best. The lads understand that and the fans always respond.
“If we stick together, we will be okay. We are desperate to stay up there.”