Norwich City 1 Leeds United 0: Leeds quickly need to find attacking edge

THREE games, three straight defeats and three opposition goalkeepers enjoying their quietest 90 minutes of the season.

These are worrying times for Leeds United as what, at the start of 2010, seemed like being a stroll towards automatic promotion increasingly looks like ending with a third consecutive tilt at the play-offs.

Chris Martin's dramatic 89th-minute winner not only all but sealed the League One title for Norwich City, it also left Leeds clinging to second place by the slimmest of margins.

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Just one goal separates Simon Grayson's side from nearest challengers Millwall in the table, while Swindon Town – the next visitors to Elland Road – sit a further point behind in fourth.

Throw Charlton Athletic, just one victory adrift of the second automatic promotion place, into the mix and it is clear the run-in is going to be an anxious affair for a United side that has claimed just 15 points from as many games since the turn of the year.

Admittedly, Saturday's defeat to Norwich did provide some encouraging signs with Leeds looking impressively solid against the division's top scorers.

Grayson's side, employing a diamond formation to combat Paul Lambert's preferred set-up, also passed the ball around neatly and showed the character needed to prosper in the white-hot atmosphere of a promotion battle.

But – and this is a huge but – for all the positives that can be gleaned from the visit to Norwich, the bottom line is Fraser Forster's most telling contribution for the home side was a couple of routine saves that a schoolboy goalkeeper could have made.

Okay, the two stops to deny Mike Grella in the second half were more than either Kelvin Davies of Southampton or Millwall's David Forde were asked to do in the two games preceding United's trip to Carrow Road. But it still means more that 270 minutes have passed since an opposition goalkeeper was asked a serious question by the mis-firing Leeds attack.

United were, admittedly, not helped against the leaders by the injury that saw Luciano Becchio stretchered from the field after just 15 minutes.

The Argentinian caught the full force of Michael Nelson's boot in his face and seemed to be out cold by the time he hit the turf. Thankfully, he had later recovered sufficiently to return to Yorkshire with his team-mates.

Without Becchio's physical presence, an attack featuring Jermaine Beckford, whose lifeless display did little to pacify those

Leeds supporters who feel his mind is now elsewhere ahead of an expected summer move to the Premier League, and Grella struggled to make inroads.

Gary Doherty's shackling of the United top scorer was textbook, refusing to be distracted by the histrionics from Beckford that became increasingly apparent the longer the afternoon wore on.

Grella did enjoy marginally more success against the Canaries defence, only to ultimately disappoint at the crucial moment.

Never was this more apparent than shortly before the hour when the American was found by a typically accurate pass from Neil Kilkenny, making a welcome return to a midfield that was anchored admirably by Michael Doyle.

Grella then showed tremendous technique to evade desperate challenges from both Doherty and Nelson to create a clear-cut opening that he subsequently wasted by shooting lamely at Forster.

The fluffed chance came during United's most productive spell of the game with arguably their most clear-cut opening six minutes later.

Again, it was Kilkenny filling the role of creator with a chipped pass that the Canaries defence could only clear as far as Robert Snodgrass.

The Scot, again a tireless worker, controlled before firing a shot that flew a yard or so wide of the target.

Those two chances plus another tame shot by Grella apart, however, the Norwich goal was rarely threatened.

It was a similar story at the other end with Richard Naylor having by far his most impressive game of recent weeks alongside debutant centre-back Neill Collins.

Shane Lowry also slotted in well at left-back following his return on loan from Aston Villa to leave Shane Higgs, preferred in goal to Casper Ankergren after regaining his fitness, facing as equally a quiet afternoon as Forster at the other end.

That was, though, until the 89th minute when Stephen Hughes reacted quickest to a flick-on to charge clear down the right.

He then looked up and swung over an inviting cross for Martin to steal a march on Collins and head past Higgs.

On the balance of play, there was little doubt the goal was harsh on United but that was little consolation to the 2,250 travelling away fans as the Carrow Road PA announcer gleefully revealed that bitter rivals Millwall had, as expected, thrashed bottom-club Stockport County to move level on points in the race for automatic promotion.

Norwich City: Forster; R Martin, Nelson, Doherty, Drury; D Russell, Smith (Hughes 85), Lappin, Hoolahan (McNamee 73); Holt Elliott (C Martin 62). Unused substitutes: Rudd, Rose, Whitbread, Johnson.

Leeds United: Higgs; Hughes (Kandol 90), Naylor, Collins, Lowry; Doyle; Kilkenny (Johnson 86), Howson; Snodgrass; Becchio (Grella 15), Beckford. Unused substitutes: Ankergren, Dickov, Bromby, Gradel.

Referee: L Probert (Wiltshire).

MATCH FOCUS

Hero: Michael Doyle

An outstanding display snuffed out the threat of Norwich's influential midfielder Wes Hoolahan, and did not deserve to be on losing side. Having Neil Kilkenny, United's best passer, alongside helped as it freed Doyle to concentrate on what he does best – stopping the opposition.

Villain: Tresor Kandol

Literally grabbed with both hands the opportunity of a rare appearance by throttling Darel Russell to become third quickest red card in League history by being dismissed just 20 seconds after coming on.

Key moment

89th-minute: Bradley Johnson fails to track Stephen Hughes and his cross is headed home by Chris Martin.

Ref watch

Lee Probert: Got Kandol's red card correct, but showed leniency to Robert Snodgrass and Grant Holt.

Verdict

Defeat was harsh on Leeds, though it proved the adage about luck evening itself out over a season as Norwich did not deserve to lose at Elland Road.

Next game

Leeds United v Swindon Town, Saturday, April 3, 3pm, League One.

Quote of the day

We're going up with the Millwall.

– Norwich City fans taunt the 2,250 visitors with their verdict on the race for automatic promotion

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