THE PENNY may have finally dropped for Pontus Jansson.
Mention of Norwich City ahead of this game would have certainly triggered a wry smile from the big Swede. And a broader, rather more satisfied expression after Saturday’s events.
There were memories to cherish from a goalscoring contribution in a bellwether victory at Carrow Road last autumn, but also scar tissue following a chaotic 3-3 draw in the reverse fixture in April when the walls caved in on Jansson and Leeds United’s season on a suffocating Spring afternoon.
Ahead of the pair’s previous meeting at Elland Road, Jansson spoke, somewhat self-indulgently, of being ‘200 per cent convinced’ that the Whites would make the play-offs. In the event, Leeds’s campaign ended as a competitive entity on that day, with a 15th booking of 2016-17 also finishing his season early.
Some 231 days on and Jansson can reflect upon travelling a fair way since.
This time there was no excessive talk or predictions or playing to the crowd following his match-winning contribution.
Just as Thomas Christiansen would probably like it with grounded Jansson – dropped earlier this season by United’s head coach – keeping it real.
On a raw winter’s afternoon there was a need simply to get the job done. Leeds did just that thanks to Jansson’s 41st-minute downward header, which took their points tally from their last six games to a healthy 13.
It rewound the clock almost a year to the day to a similarly keynote single-goal victory over Brentford when another potent defensive force in Kyle Bartley provided the fateful contribution.
On his goal, Jansson said: “I had some friends over from Sweden and I thought that they bet on me first goalscorer for the game. But they did not do it.
“But they were sat up there with my wife and it was a nice feeling.”
Offering his take on Christiansen’s impact in his Whites education, Jansson – who scored for the second successive home match as Leeds moved to within a point of sixth-placed Sheffield United – added: “We have supported the manager from the start. He has been good to me.
“When I was not at my best, he took me out of the team and I respected that. It made me work harder to get back into the team.
It made me work harder to get back into the team. It was like a wake-up call for me and I have been getting better and better. I have worked hard and now I am getting the reward.Leeds United’s Pontus Jansson
“It was like a wake-up call for me and I have been getting better and better. I have worked hard and now I am getting the reward.
“It has been a weird season for me as I started slowly. I was suspended for the first two games and came across late in pre-season because of getting married and playing for the national team, but after this last international break I have come back with a different feeling.
“I am much stronger now and I am getting better and better.”
Fifteen goals arrived in three competitive meetings between these sides last season, but it was soon evident that this latest get-together would not be a goal-fest.
Norwich had reserved much of their best for their road trips in an intermittent season, more especially in Yorkshire where they had previously done a number on both Sheffield United and Middlesbrough by strangling the life out of the hosts to claim 1-0 wins.
With their game plan clearly revolving around nicking a goal and then retreating to the deep, the Canaries would have been relatively happy with events in a low-key first half, but fatally blinked towards its conclusion.
It provided the feather in the cap of Jansson and also United’s new set-piece coach Gianno Vio.
On an afternoon of fine margins, Jansson nodded in a well-executed free-kick close to the right flank from Pawel Cibicki, whose contribution on his first appearance at Elland Road wholly justified his promotion.
The afternoon’s key moment was duly acknowledged afterwards by Norwich head coach Daniel Farke, with the efficient and clinical nature of the goal always likely to possess a certain beauty to a German.
Shortly before that another well-struck free-kick, this time from the left from Ezgjan Alioski, almost yielded a breakthrough with Kalvin Phillips steering the ball against a post before Cibicki’s follow-up was blocked.
Forced to reassess their method on the resumption, Norwich brought much more to the table, but Leeds stood tall.
None more so than Felix Wiedwald whose weak parry to divert Nelson Oliveira’s routine curler should have been punished by the onrushing James Maddison just before the break.
The under-fire United goalkeeper, who has also had to take it on the chin after being dropped earlier this season, like Jansson, made two redeeming saves to deny Alex Pritchard, who also grazed the bar with a curler.
Leeds displayed elements of danger on the break with Samuel Saiz and Phillips going close, but in the main it was about protecting their precious earlier gain and resolutely staying on message.
Saiz spurned a chance to seal it, striking a post after Grant Hanley’s woeful error, but one goal proved plenty.