Saints, West Brom beware as Leeds United stars show up and outclass Norwich to reach Wembley

Lewis Oldham
Leeds United Norwich City
Georginio Rutter and Wilfried Gnonto celebrate.

Leeds United’s under-fire stars showed their class as Daniel Farke’s side booked their place in the Championship play-off final by demolishing Norwich City.


Four days on from Leeds United and Norwich City producing the worst advert for the *actual* Best League in the World you are ever likely to witness, the two Championship promotion hopefuls squared off in a rematch in front of a rapturous Elland Road crowd on Thursday night.

In the opening leg, neutral fans of the Championship were the losers as they sat through a tiresome 90 minutes of play-off action, with Leeds and Norwich unwilling to take any risks as they seemingly settled for a draw before a ball was even kicked.

But for a typically front-foot Leeds United side who fielded a defensive lineup with Archie Gray operating further forward instead of a more natural attacking option, this result saw the tide turn in their favour ahead of the return leg at Elland Road.

As for Norwich, they would have obviously preferred to head to West Yorkshire with an aggregate lead. But a goalless stalemate in the first leg was not the end of the world, especially against an out-of-sorts Leeds side who would come under increasing scrutiny the longer the second leg remained on a knife edge.

Leeds United were unfortunate to miss out on automatic promotion as their tally of 90 points is usually enough to seal a place in the top two. But their dismal form during the run-in justified them falling short to Ipswich Town and Leicester City, so Farke – in his first time experiencing the Championship play-offs – had an almighty job on his hands lifting his players off the canvas for three more defining games.

The home supporters were always going to be pumped up for this match and they made their voices heard from the opening whistle. Fans in the stands were up to their task and inside the opening ten minutes, it became evident that Leeds United’s players had turned up as well.

Norwich were given an early warning as Championship Player of the Season Crysencio Summerville drifted into the penalty area before firing over the bar, but Leeds did find the net a couple of minutes later.

The goal came from an unsuspected source as Ilia Gruev’s free-kick wrong-footed Angus Gunn, who had been expecting a cross and was punished for being out of position as the surprise shot beat the goalkeeper at his near post.

Experienced centre-back Shane Duffy pleaded for calmness from his team-mates after this goal went in. Deep down, he would have known Norwich were facing an uphill task because in the 22 games Leeds have taken the lead this season, 20 of those matches have resulted in victories.

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The Canaries actually responded pretty well to going behind as they managed to take the sting out of the game for a few minutes, but this was shortlived as Leeds doubled their lead in the 20th minute.

Once again helped by some slack work by Gunn, Joel Piroe – who returned to the starting XI as Farke fielded a more familiar-looking attacking lineup – headed home past the goalkeeper, who was left in no man’s land after foolishly opting to come out to collect a deep out-swinging cross from right winger Wilfried Gnonto.

Going into this play-off semi-final tie, Leeds were rightly the favourites to progress but they are a team renowned for making hard work of the simplest tasks, so they were in dreamland having enjoyed a perfect opening 20 minutes against Norwich.

However, their brilliant work could have easily been undone moments after the restart as a rare defensive mistake from Ethan Ampadu allowed Josh Sargeant a free run at goal towards an under-fire Illan Meslier, who stood firm when his side needed him most to keep out the effort from the United States international.

Leeds played with purpose from the off and their confidence was only boosted by their opening two goals (and Meslier’s save).

After looking a shadow of their best selves all across the pitch during the run-in, that old confidence had returned against Norwich, who really could not live with the hosts.

Any resemblance of hope remaining from a Norwich perspective soon ended as Georginio Rutter and Summerville eventually got on the scoresheet to make it a 4-0 win on the night and on aggregate. And frankly, it should have been more.

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Just as the Leeds inquest into their end-of-season downfall was growing more severe, their under-scrutiny players responded in kind to produce a performance befitting of a side which finished the normal season with a points tally of 90.

Norwich’s promotion hopes were reliant on Leeds United’s struggles to carry over into the play-offs, but they were not afforded any such luxury as they were outclassed and given a footballing lesson by their superior foes, who have made an almighty statement ahead of next weekend’s play-off final at Wembley.

Wagner’s teams have now failed to score in 90 minutes or extra-time in six play-off ties and it is too soon for their developing squad to reach the Premier League, but they – especially if they can retain Jonathan Rowe and Gabriel Sara – will be better for this experience heading into next season.

Southampton or West Brom could be forgiven for letting out an audible gulp after witnessing Leeds United – particularly their talented front four – return to form just at the right time as they look to secure an immediate return to the Premier League by *finally* getting over their play-off hoodoo.