Norwich City 0 Leeds United 0 EFL Championship PlayOff 1st leg

Last updated : 18 May 2024 By David Watkins

12th May, 2024, EFL Championship playoff first leg.

Well, I guess we can say that the plan for the first leg worked! Daniel Farke had told reporters recently that he knew we’d been less solid at the back lately and his team for this game was clearly aimed at helping the defence out by strengthening the midfield to offer some protection. I guess the clean sheet vindicated his selection.

For large parts of the first half though, it wasn’t clear that the new plan was working that well! The defence still looked flaky, as indeed we did throughout the team. Too many passes were going astray, usually ruining any good work leading into the final third and then, if we got there, the final ball was often shockingly bad. We looked unsure, slow, and were second best in those first 45 minutes and several Norwich forays into Leeds territory could, on another day, have yielded results for them. As it happened, somehow they couldn’t capitalise either and, unsure as we looked, we still possibly had the best chance of the half when the ball was pulled back for Georginio, up there as a lone striker, only for him to perform a ‘swing and a miss’, not for the first time this season, albeit he was challenged just as he went for the ball. In fact, the one part of this new plan that didn’t work, at least in my eyes, was Georginio foraging up front. To be fare he was here there and everywhere at times but he was so wasteful with the ball that he was often the reason our few first half attacks came to nought. I can’t help wondering if it ever crossed Farke’s mind to play a real striker up front…. Mat Joseph must be completely perplexed by the call to play Rutter up there.

Possibly the most visible man on the pitch first half was referee Josh Smith, just the latest in a long line of referees we’ve seen who just  wasn’t up to the job. Once again it was purely random whether a challenge was called a foul or was allowed to play on. It’s baffling how these refs are never censured for their woeful officiating. Quite how Willy Gnonto didn’t win at least a free kick when he was manhandled to the ground on the edge of the Norwich box I will never know. Not that the liners seemed much better! Was Georginio really offside when he was played through by Willy Gnonto before Junior Firpo ‘scored’? It looked as much onside as offside to me and I was stood right in line with it. For all that Norwich looked the better side in this first half, their only strike on goal was a weak low free kick that Meslier dealt with efficiently enough at the foot of his right post.

I’m not sure how we managed it, but in the second half the plan came together. Rutter was still poor and wasteful but, gradually, Leeds began to boss the possession and we spent most of the second half in Norwich territory. Very little came of that possession though and, as a spectacle, this was a poor game with only three shots on target registered throughout. Two of those came from Leeds in the second half, a rasping shot from a tight angle by Cree Summerville that Angus Gunn fumbled around the post and a curling effort from substitute Jaidon Anthony that was gathered safely enough by Gunn without drama. Any rare breaks from Norwich were typically snuffed out by the Leeds defence, and often by the efforts of Sam Byram.

So, 0 – 0 it was, and it’s no surprise that the other semi-final between Albion and Saints also finished the same way. The first leg is seldom going to win you through to Wembley but it can easily put you out of contention. The task now for Daniel Farke, having come up with a plan to strengthen our resolve at the back, is to now find a way of igniting the fire up front. If we are to overcome the Canaries, we are going to have to be more creative and clinical in that final third without compromising the security at the back. Does Farke have another plan for that? It’s going to be a tense night at Elland Road on Thursday but the prize is huge for getting it right.

Sky Bet Championship Play-Offs

Norwich City 0

Leeds United 0

Norwich: Gunn (GK), Stacey, Gibson, Sainz, Sargent (van Hooijdonk 84’), Sara, McLean (C), Duffy, Nunez, Rowe (Fassnacht 60’), Giannoulis (McCallum 75’). Subs not used: Long (GK), Hanley, Sorensen, Batth, Fisher, Welch. 

Leeds: Meslier (GK), Firpo, Ampadu (C), Kamara, Summerville (James 87’), Rodon, Gray, Georginio (Piroe 70’), Byram, Gnonto (Anthony 70’), Gruev. Subs not used: Darlow (GK), Cresswell, Cooper, Shackleton, Roberts, Joseph.

Venue: Carrow Road

Attendance: 26,982 (1,959)

Referee: Josh Smith

Booked: Duffy, Giannoulis, Fassnacht (Norwich) Gnonto (Leeds)