The first inkling this was going to be special night was as we ran into a traffic jam on the M621. A big crowd was heading for the same place as me…….Elland Road, but this was the EFL Cup that nobody loves and certainly on the evidence of the previous rounds nobody is interested in? Tonight was different though. The powers that be at Leeds had finally seen the light and slashed ticket prices for the game and also there was the tantalising possibility of reaching the rarified air of the Quarter Finals.
Whatever the reasons a crowd of 22,222 including a large contingent from Delia’s part of the country had descended on LS11 for the game and there was that unmistakable whiff of excitement and expectation in the air that a Cup game under the lights brings. Some of the pre match optimism was dampened once the teams were announced. Both teams had made 8 changes from their weekend line ups. A bold move from Garry Monk. Would he live to regret it? On the evidence of the first 30 minutes the answer was a definte yes. As early as the first minute Cooper gifted Naismith the ball on the edge of the box and only a fine save from Silvestri prevented the Canaries taking the lead. Norwich looked confident, mobile and threatening as they stroked the ball around the park lead by Naismith who seemed untouchable. On 14 minutes Norwich opened the scoring with a headed goal from Pritchard. Realistically not many fans inside the stadium were surprised. The away fans were in heaven and the outlook was bleak for the young Leeds side.
Norwich continued to dominate possession and the game, Oliveira was a handful up front eagerly feeding off a plentiful supply from the impressive Norwich midfield. This could be a long night I mused as the game headed to half time with me screaming for someone in the Leeds midfield to perform reconstruction surgery on Naismith’s legs. He was running the show. At least Silvestri in the Leeds goal was reminding fans what a good shot stopper he is. If nothing else though Monk has drilled into the team a togetherness and whilst they were under the cosh everyone was giving 100%. Bartley had the fans out their seats as he bundled the ball into the net from a corner on 40 minutes. Problem was he’d punched the ball into the net!.
On 43 minutes though the home side’s belligerence in the face of consistent pressure paid off. Roofe battled to the left hand bye line and just as the ball looked to be going out he clipped an exquisite cross to the back post where Antonsson guided the ball into the net and Elland Road exploded with a tsunami of noise that rocketed around the old stadium. 1.1 and definitely game on. Two young lads next to me had eyes the size of saucers as they drunk in the joy of celebrating a special goal at Elland Road! Half time arrived with the ground alive with cup fever.
Garry Monk rallied his troops ready for the 2nd half. The goal had added belief to the hard work of the first half. Doukara was causing trouble to the Norwich back four. Cooper and Bartley were solid at the back whilst Silvestri was in his element saving nearly everything Norwich threw at him. Question was could Leeds step up a gear and take the game to Norwich in the 2nd period? Within ten minutes of the restart Doukara answered that question as he flashed a fantasic header straight at Ruddy in the Canaries goal. The noise level rose as both teams battled for supremacy. Norwich now looked rattled after seemingly strolling in the first period. Leeds were pressing higher and not standing off their foes. Confidence fed through to the stands as the home fans urged Monk’s marvels on.
Silvestri made a couple of superb saves from Oliveira to keep the scores level but at the other end the Canaries were looking every so slightly vulnerable especially down the flanks. Wood replaced Antonsson on 67 minutes and immediately made an impact with a bustling run. Minutes later he got free in the box but missed a cross……..the ball fell to Mowatt who was completely un marked with the goal at his mercy……as 22,000 celebrated the certain goal The Leeds man lifted the ball over the bar with his less than effective right foot. FFS that should have put us in front. The two young lad’s eyes were now the size of dustbin lids. 15 minutes to go and still 1.1.
Monk swapped Mowatt for Sacko and Doukara for Phillips as Leeds went for the kill. The tension was unbearable. Wood got free and shot too close to Ruddy in the Norwich goal. Silvestri saved from Canos. 2 minutes to win it or Extra time beckoned. 90 minutes gone 5 minutes added time to come but Coyle was down and in real pain. With all our subs used Leeds were now down to ten men as Extra Time started. The drama continued.
To say Norwich took full advantage of the extra man is an understatement. Leeds were now like a punch drunk boxer on the ropes as Norwich spread the ball wide under the direction of Dorrans and Naismith in the Canaries midfield. Silvestri was doing his best but the yellow tidalwave just kept coming. On 99 minutes Leeds resistance failed and Oliveira headed Norwich in front. 2.1. Tears appeared in the dustbin eyes as Leeds looked a spent force. Legs were tiring although their hearts were still willing. Could Leeds drag themselves into the game one more time?
The 2nd half of extra time started with Norwich once again pushing forward. Where would Leeds find a chink in the Norwich armour? Mr Sacko, come on down! The flying Leeds winger hurtled at the Norwich left back…..neither player knew which way he was going to go but he surged past the beguiled defender and then hit a low shot that Ruddy could only parry…………..who would get the ball now dangling enticingly in the box…….Mr Wood of course and the New Zealander coolly tapped the ball home as the roof flew off the kop. 2.2. Unbelievable!. No tears in the dustbin lid eyes now.
Another nerve tingling 11 minutes went by but no further goals. Penalties. I searched for some beta blockers to calm my nerves without success. The tension around the ground was now indescribable. The first two penalties were converted. Then Silvestri saved one then another Norwich effort. Surely we were in the Quarter Finals now? But then Phillips followed by Grimes failed leaving the score 2.2. Up steps Robbie Brady. Silvestri then took on official hero status as he saved a third penalty. So it was now on Vieira’s young shoulders. If he scored Leeds were through. He strolled up and thumped the ball home. Bedlam followed as all the roofs came off the stands as the noisy Norwich fans hurried for the exits. UnFuckingBelievable. Tears were back in the dustbin eyes but this time tears of joy. What a fantastic cup tie.
This was the best game at Elland Road for a long, long time. The whole team were heroes and none more than the forgotten man Silvestri. Leeds refused to be beaten against a very good Norwich side. The ecstacy of the fans was infectious as we streamed out of the ground. “Dad, Dad can I come next week” shouted a young boy hopefully… “Course you can son” replied Dad before turning to me and saying “ How do I tell him it’s not like this every week?” “You don’t” I replied “Let him enjoy the moment” I have never taken drugs in my life but if anybody tells me there is chemical that gives you a bigger buzz than this then they are be lying. Absolutely mint!
Burton next up on Saturday. Onwards and upwards.