When your team is in a rut/blip/poor run of form etc the usual pre match optimism tends to be replaced by gallows humour. The Happy Chocker, Quiet One and yours truly arrived at Selby station for another long distance trip to watch the mighty whites in bright sunshine. A well meaning chap offered his view that "you could do with a win today lad" Mmmmmm I considered the obvious reply "Just when did you get your degree in stating the bleeding obvious" but settled for a knowing nod. So began a day of highs and lows as is the case when you are addicted to Leeds United.
A change at Peterboro and we were on our way across the agricultural wilderness of the Fens to Norwich. The atmosphere was building nicely in line with the intake of alcohol on the train. It was difficult to think that we were on the verge of another must win game having just lost the last two "must win" games against Saints and Millwall. But that's how it goes in the weird world of football supporting and by the time we were inside the Compleat Angler pub opposite Norwich station it's fair to say the building was rocking with the thumping beat of WACCOE. Brilliant!
The demographics of the average Norwich fan seem to be different to most clubs. Every second fan seemed to be a middle aged clone of Delia resplendent with their open knitted green and yellow scarf and accompanied by a white haired gentleman in a tweed jacket. Not a chav in sight! Most strange.
Larry's team selection was always going to be interesting after the weeks arrivals and the injuries to Kissy and Beckford. The latter had recovered to take his place up front, whilst Higgs replaced Casper, Collins came straight into the centre of defence and Lowry slotted in at full back. Kilkenny started in midfield and there was no place for Sanchez Watt even on the bench. With Doyle detailed to man mark the dangerous Hoolahan and the midfield set up to try and keep the ball on the grass and not the stratosphere I felt a slight twinge of optimism as the game kicked off.
Leeds went into a pre match huddle to brace themselves for what was a top of the table clash. It seemed to work as Leeds started brightly with Killa clearly relishing the chance to run things from midfield and Doyle equally enjoying the role of sticking like a Limpet to Hoolahan. So just when I was starting to think that just maybe we might..................bang another injury disrupted our plans as Becchio collapsed like a bag of Norfolk potatoes only this time he really was hurt after catching a flying boot on his jaw. He lay motionless for a couple of worrying minutes before the stretcher took him away and onwards to hospital. Enter Mike Grella, not Dickov or the increasingly moody Kandol.
Grella is a bit lightweight for me up front but he has got quick feet and a willing heart maybe this could be his day?
At the back Collins settled in well and showed his liking for attacking any aerial ball into the danger area much to the pleasure of this particular fan. Alongside him Nayls was having one of his better games as the solid Leeds back four snuffed out any threat from the vaunted home attack. Higgs was left to pick up the pieces from any cross that strayed near his goal. The promising start lifted the Leeds crowd as the 2300 faithful urged their team on with the usual vocal volume.
Chances at either end were at a premium. Beckford escaped his marker a couple of times but couldn't capitalise while the industrious Snoddy tried his luck from long distance but the ball sailed into the canary coloured crowd behind the goal. Norwich's best chance came near the end of the half but Holt couldn't keep his shot down. Both teams departed for their HT cup of tea to a noisy ovation. No boo's this week.
The Norwich team talk was clearly brief and to the point as the team returned to the field early with a few tails between legs. Their message became clear as the final 45 minutes kicked off as first Doyle and then Snoddy were victims of what at best could be described as "over enthusiastic tackling" and at worst outrageous fouls by the dirty carrot munching bastards.
Grella started to cause the home defence trouble without actually getting a straight shot on the keeper but Beckford was having one of those games that even I found it difficult to defend him against the many shouts of "lazy bastard" spilling from the frustrated whites fans as he failed make any sort of impact. As the half progressed I was pleased that we were back to some sort of form and were just edging the game from the champions elect. The only problem was that we still hadn't really tested the goalie. Our approach work was good but sort of fizzled out once we were in the "red zone". A problem we've seen throughout this barren run!
Man of the Match Doyle knew he had had a good day when his adversary Hoolahan was withdrawn on 73 minutes. I'm sure I could see him mouthing to the bench "Who the fuck do I mark now?"
As the game entered the last 10 mins the match was balanced on a knife edge. If anything we looked the most likely...........then presumably in an effort to preserve the precious point we had Larry took off Killa and replaced him with Bradley Johnson. From the incredulous looks and comments around me it wasn't a move many fans would have done me included. Nerves were now as taut as a drum as every attack now sort to win the match.
Then disaster struck. Leeds lost possession and with no left back or left midfield, yes that's you Mr Johnson, at home Norwich broke into the acres of space.......a pin point cross..........Chris Martin in the middle guided the ball past a helpless Higgs. Double Bollox.
The home fans celebrated as if they'd just won the league.......... which I suppose they have. After such a battling performance in a game that we needed to get a result the sight of 22,000 canary carrot crunchers dancing in delight was hard to stomach especially when they suddenly turned their allegiance to Millwall when news of their 5.1 annihilation of Stockport came through. At that moment in time I could have quite easily started my career as a football hooligan.
There was just time for Kandol to come on for a last hurrah..........or as it turned out a 26 second appearance before getting a straight red for grabbing a Norwich throat. We're all frustrated Tres but that didn't help the cause. Two strikers out for the next few matches now.........well done!
Feelings were running high as the fans departed side by side onto the streets of Norwich and minor altercations erupted as the opposite emotions of victory and defeat came to the fore.
The journey home when you've lost is a long one. This one seemed to take an eternity, brightened by a 45 minute stopover in a ghost town called Grantham. By the time we arrived there the post match doom and gloom on the train had reached such a crescendo I thought we must have been relegated to League 2 not still in one of the automatic promotion spots to the championship. Leeds fans do revel in despair.
I started the day wanting firstly a good team performance whilst not expecting to win so I suppose it was mission accomplished but the many homeward debates about who we will beat in our remaining 8 games leaves me a nervous wreck with the expectation of entering this years dreaded play off lottery.
Still a lot of twists and turns to go yet though. 24 points to play for which we need 18 for automatic. On this run of form it's a tall order. But until the fat lady sings there's always hope.
Oh and Delia's pies weren't all they were cracked up to be. The pastry fell away when I picked mine up. Do you know how difficult it is to eat the middle of a 1000'f pie filling with your fingers? Delia 0.1 Pukka Pies.
Swindon up next at ER. We're running out of "must win" games now.