Leon Barnett’s perfect sense of timing finally rode to Norwich’s rescue this afternoon as the on-loan Baggies defender delivered what he had threatened to do all season – and meet a deep Norwich corner with a thumping header.
In a 65th minute instant it wiped out Max Gradel’s first-half opener – and wiped the smiles off the faces of the 2,300 travelling Leeds fans who contributed to a record-breaking crowd of 26,315 all of whom enjoyed full value for their money in today’s evenly-contested 1-1 draw.
It still left the Canaries just outside the play-off pack on the back of their fourth successive draw. Eighth – just as they were at the start of play.
But against a well-drilled and well-balanced Leeds side, the performance still boded well for the rest of the season as Wes Hoolahan’s second-half arrival tipped the contest back Norwich’s way after Leeds had looked more of the part before it.
It was Hoolahan’s dart into the box five minutes after his arrival on the hour-mark that forced the David Fox corner from which Barnett headed so emphatically home; he, likewise, almost swung a perfect 22-yarder into the top corner as Norwich rose to the boil in the game’s final ten minutes.
In the end, however, Leeds held firm and headed home with a good point for their travels. For Norwich, it is the results that they need; there’s little wrong with the performances.
“I thought last Saturday’s game was brilliant – and I thought today’s game was just as terrific,” said City boss Paul Lambert afterwards.
“I couldn’t ask for any more from the lads given the injuries that I’ve got – there were two, very good sides out there,” he added, after springing a big surprise in handing Andrew Surman a start after his three-month injury absence.
“He’s been out for three months; he’s only played 45 minutes in a reserve game but I thought he showed his class – and sometimes, as I said yesterday, needs must. I thought some of his movement and that with the ball was different class and to have him back was a big plus for us.”
Lambert also paid tribute to the atomosphere that boiled up at Carrow Road as the Canaries took the game to the visitors in the second period. It needed the post to deny an Alex Bruce own goal; a great save from Kasper Schmeichel to deny Chrissy Martin.
“It’s just a brilliant place to play football,” said the City chief.
Before Gradel’s opener the Canaries had, in fairness, shaded the opening exchanges.
Surman’s delivery was good and direct; twice first Holt and then Elliott Ward almost stretched to meet a deep cross from away on the left as the one-time Saints starlet settled straight back into his game.
Barnett would have a shot blocked on the edge of the box; Surman likewise after a smart dummy from Chris Martin.
All was well with the world. Until the 13th minute when Barnett crashed through the back of Luciano Becchio on the edge of the Canary box. Play on, ruled the official – a decision that reaped the visitors handsome rewards as Gradel stepped into that inside left channel and fired a low, angled shot beyond first the covering Russell Martin and then the diving John Ruddy.
The wind was gone from Norwich’s early sails; the travelling Leeds faithful sensed sweet revenge might be in the air for last season’s title surrender.
David Fox would spring Andrew Crofts clean through in the 24th minute. Having rounded Kasper Schmeichel, both the angle and the ball just ran away from him and the chance was gone.
The early goal – albeit to the wrong side for the record-breaking home crowd – added to a decent edge to the game; it was bright, breezy and fully committed. A great advert for Championship football, as some over-paid PR-type would no doubt write.
Gradel almost added his second in the 35th with a sweetly-struck, 22-yard strike that Ruddy had to flip over the bar with an outstretched glove.
Norwich were being tested; that it would be fair to say. They would push, prod and probe through to the interval, but Leeds held firm. These were solid; decent.
After the break and an unchanged City started brightly enough; they just lacked that little bit of extra guile to pick their way through the Bruce-O’Brien Line.
Little surprise to find Wes Hoolahan given a warm reception as he started to warm-up on the touchline towards the hour-mark.
In the meantime, Simon Lappin’s deep, 52nd minute cross would see Bruce head against his own post as Holt pushed. It got the home faithful roused; hope sprang again.
Come the hour-mark and Wes duly arrived; on with Simeon Jackson for Anthony McNamee and the tiring Surman. Within five minutes and Hoolahan was making in-roads; latching onto a Martin flick, darting into the Leeds box and forcing that fateful corner….
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