Now it gets serious.
Back to league action, and the renewal of a fixture rich in history and drama. Since 2005 we’ve played Leeds 20 times, in three different divisions – almost always with a lot at stake, and with plenty of side-stories.
Needless to say, tomorrow is no exception. Two teams keen to impose themselves and their ambitions, ideally with victory over a heavyweight rival.
And an extra twist – Daniel Farke in the away dugout.
Before we focus on Saturday, a look back – especially at two seasons that produced some of the most vivid memories of the rivalry.
In 2009, we found ourselves, together with Leeds, in the unwelcome territory of the third tier. With City having overcome the first-day horror of Colchester and installed Paul Lambert, we rapidly joined Leeds as the standout teams of the division.
Our two meetings confirmed it. A hard-fought encounter at Elland Road in October 2009 was decided by a 90th-minute Jermaine Beckford winner. A 2-1 victory for Leeds, their other goal coming from a certain Bradley Johnson.
The return at Carrow Road in March 2010 was no less dramatic, Chris Martin reversing the roles with his 89th-minute diving header to give us a 1-0 win. One of those great Carrow Road moments.
Some lean years followed, at least from a City point of view. Just one win – at Elland Road courtesy of goals by Graeme Dorrans and Jonny Howson – between the drama of 2009-10 and Daniel Farke’s first, breathtaking, promotion season of 2018-19.
Leeds were also strong that year and gave us plenty to think about with a thumping 3-0 win at Carrow Road in August 2018. The Marcelo Bielsa magic seemed to be in full flow.
Cue a top-of-the-table return in February 2019, with Leeds confident in front of a massive home crowd. But this time it was a triumph for Farke: one of our very best team performances, with a double from Mario Vrancic and a classic Teemu Pukki finish to give us a thoroughly deserved 3-1 victory.
We of a certain age will always think of Leeds as a big club, of course. And not one that’s easy to love.
Don Revie’s team was long on skill and strength – but even longer on cynicism and the dark arts. That team is so firmly seared on our minds that the very different recent ones – under Bielsa, in particular, they were a joy to watch – haven’t really shaken the image of dirty Leeds.
David Pearce’s The Damned United may have been “a fiction based on a fact”, but much of it rings true.
I wonder if Daniel Farke knows…
Like many clubs, we love to beat Leeds. But I had to wait a while to see it.
Having started supporting the Canaries in 1965, my experience of games against them began in 1972-73 after our first-ever promotion to the top flight. We lost the two league games that season and were thumped 5-0 in the Cup – but only in a second replay (those were the days!) after 1-1 draws in the first game and the replay.
The eventual first triumph for me was in 1976 when John Bond’s team went to Elland Road and came away with a 3-0 victory. Mick McGuire’s first-half goal seemed to be settling the game until Ted McDougall – not the most attractive character to represent Norwich, but one of the best goalscorers we’ve ever had – added two late ones.
But it’s the present that matters.
After relegation from the Premier League last May, despite desperate measures including appointing Sam Allardyce for the final games, Leeds are rightly expected to be among the leading candidates for promotion this time. Rightly or wrongly, so are Norwich.
Both have a reasonable platform at this stage but are yet to convince that they have what it takes to compete for the top spots. Leeds lie fifth with 19 points from 11 games; City seventh with 17.
Both will be anxious not to fall any further behind the top two. That gap is nine points for Leeds, and eleven for us.
Leeds clearly have the better current form, with three wins from their last five games compared to our one. The warm feeling around Carrow Road of a few weeks ago has given way to doubts and questions. Saturday would be a very helpful time to answer them.
Personally, I find it hard to put my finger on where City have lost their impetus. The stats say our problem is in defence rather than attack – but I wonder whether the blow of losing Josh Sargent and Ashley Barnes has reverberated through the team and dented its belief.
Either way, Saturday matters. Our main defensive challenge may be to subdue Joel Piroe, a late signing in the window who’s clearly their leading scorer.
Two other Leeds players worth a special mention. Sam Byram, recently of our parish, has played in most of their games so far. At the other end of the age spectrum, another regular is now 17-year-old Archie Gray. He could hardly have a better Leeds pedigree: his father Andy, grandfather Frank and great uncle Eddie were all stalwarts for the club.
I’ve long given up trying to predict these games. Just crossing my fingers for an improvement in my record so far this season: Previewed 2, Lost 2. I’m waiting for the editor’s dreaded vote of confidence…