The ACN Playoff Review – Leeds (h)

13/05/24

What lies at the end of the 23-24 season - reward, punishment; maybe both at the same time? Regardless, it’s all about the grind, Paul Buller says.

The line-up

With so few players available, Jonny Rowe in for Ashley Barnes was the big call David Wagner had to make – and we got quite excited by the prospect of watching Sainz, Sara and Rowe attack the Leeds defence. It didn’t disappoint, certainly for the first 30 minutes at least. Rowe clearly isn’t yet fully fit but showed enough trademark dip’n’swerve to scare the Leeds defence. 

Dimi in at left-back was something of a surprise as Sam McCallum has been playing so well but it didn’t take long to see what we’ve been missing. Was he actually at left back? At times he made runs without the ball across the box into the right wing position, often played very high on the left from goal kicks and ran about like a child who’d been stuck in a classroom all day. Whatever his position, it worked.

The atmosphere

I’m quite enjoying the current trend of people (including myself) moaning about upcoming games / managers / promotions / atmospheres all week then turning up to find Carrow Road rocking. It’s like we MUST punish ourselves before we allow ourselves to have fun, which I guess is pretty much what being a Norwich City fan is all about, so fair enough. 

If I could have worn a yellow and green tee emblazoned with the word ‘AMBIVULUNT’, I would’ve done (*note to ACN merch team) so it was a nice surprise to hear super-Norwich songs echo across the city long before kickoff. Kenny McLean mentioned how much of a lift it gave the team, and it was something special. Unfortunately, much like the football in the suffocating heat, everything went flat towards the end of the first half and never really recovered. I couldn’t help thinking we should be giving the team a bit more, but damn it was hot; I think we all just wanted some fresh air.

Hurrah moment

Not a great deal to hurrah about but neither was this a game to boo. So looking at the positive, Norwich’s start was excellent and caught both us fans and Leeds by surprise. Although we didn’t score, the way we approached the opening of this match is probably also the reason we didn’t concede; Leeds looked nervous and cautious and we gave them plenty of good reasons to be. If you’re going to draw 0-0 in the first leg, at least do it with positive intent – and that David Wagner was prepared to give us a super-charged start to get behind is hurrah enough for me.

Boooo moment

All I’m going to say here is that I did not enjoy having to explain to my 11-year-old son why grown men think it’s a good idea to fight each other in the street ‘in the name of football’. In a world of so few positive male role models, I’m ashamed that he has to witness this. He loves coming to watch Norwich City, is obsessed by football and was genuinely scared by what he saw in several different areas outside Carrow Road and in the city after the match. Enough.

Hero of the Match

Not an easy call for a nil-nil when both sides had so few chances but I’m going to give this to Borja Sainz. He must have run about 10,000 miles, chased everything, got himself and the team out of several sticky moments, and was probably the most likely to score. One less touch here and there might have made that happen but considering we knew nothing about this guy a few months ago, it’s hard to imagine the team without him. He’s definitely got a Wembley worldie in him so let’s hope he gets the chance to try it.

Our post-match takeaway

There was a fair bit of grumbling at the end of this match, some of which seemed a bit over-critical considering the opposition, our thin squad, the energy-sapping heat and what was at stake – and not least that for good chunks of this game we were by far the better side. However, put it into the context of our poor away form, Leeds beating us twice and having to win at Elland Road and there’s some justification; this should’ve been a win for us because we played well and the form tells us it won’t go well in the second leg. 

I’ve no idea how Wagner will set up for the away leg but that’s what makes him quite an interesting manager to watch – he has a lot of tricks up his sleeve and you never quite know. We are as likely to win as we are to get thrashed, but if this first-half performance is anything to go by, Leeds do not like it up ‘em when faced with Sara, Sainz, Sargent and Rowe. A few tweaks – Sargent not trying to be Sargent and Barnes, for instance; Rowe and Sara finding a bit more space; the referee actually booking Leeds players for constantly fouling our midfielders, will all help. Do I believe? Actually I do, a bit, but I’m, you know, ambivulunt.

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