Leeds 2, Norwich 2
Leeds 2, Norwich 2: Only a stunning last minute free-kick from Leeds winger Eddie Lewis denied the Canaries a thrilling away victory at promotion-chasing Leeds United this afternoon.
Only a stunning last minute free-kick from Leeds winger Eddie Lewis denied the Canaries a thrilling away victory at promotion-chasing Leeds United this afternoon.
In a performance that bore no resemblance whatsoever to Norwich's last away day surrender at Crystal Palace, a magnificent second half performance from the Canaries had seen goals from Andy Hughes and Paul McVeigh put them in command of the contest - and all after a first half strike from Rob Hulse had given the home side the early advantage.
A minute from time, however, and Lewis picked his spot high in the top corner to rescue a last-gasp point for the Yorkshire club.
It was rough justice on Norwich who had fought and fought to gain that lead and while at the end their disappointment was clear, the fact that they walked off to a standing ovation from the travelling City fans suggested that things may, at last, be starting to improve after such a wholly wretched season.
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As the Canaries emerged in the West Yorkshire snow this afternoon for what was promised to be a tough test of their fragile recent confidence away at promotion-hunting Leeds United, so City boss Nigel Worthington went back to his December-style drawing board in terms of Norwich's look and formation.
For after the humiliation of Norwich's last away trip to Crystal Palace so Worthington opted to shore up his midfield at the expense of his front line with a 4-5-1 formation specifically designed to avoid any repeat of that Selhurst Park fiasco.
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All of which, individually, ensured there was no starting place for £3 million new-boy Rob Earnshaw as the fit-again Leon McKenzie was handed the unenviable task of running the channels for the next hour and a half as the loan striker.
The extra body in midfield came in the shape of Simon Charlton who joined Andy Hughes and Carl Robinson in a more crowded central midfield than the wide open spaces which presented themselves to the Eagles a fortnight ago.
Otherwise there was the expected return of Adam Drury at left-back following his recent one match ban while Canary Academy product Jason Shackell kept his place alongside Gary Doherty.
For the home side determined to overall Yorkshire neighbours Sheffield United in that race for second spot, manager Kevin Blackwell named an unchanged team from the side that fared slightly better on their trip to South East London with a 2-1 win last weekend.
In fairness to the Canaries they certainly started the game in solid enough fashion and indeed, carved out the first real opportunity when former Leeds old-boy Darren Huckerby made the most of a slip from United skipper Paul Butler before releasing McKenzie through the inside-left channel.
Unfortunately the ball just bobbled away at too wide an angle and as the angle narrowed against the City striker so his shot was deflected comfortably into the waiting arms of keeper Neil Sullivan.
As the game moved past the quarter of an hour mark so it was Leeds who were starting to up the heat on their hosts.
Norwich's cause was not however, helped by a misplaced pass from Paul McVeigh which suddenly enabled Shaun Derry to break forward menacingly.
On that occasion the Canaries held firm but it looked increasingly like it would be a long, hard afternoon for the Canaries.
The ever-dangerous Robbie Blake had already seen one snap-shot fire wide on 15 minutes before the home side took the lead on the 20th minute.
Blake flicked the ball through to American international Eddie Lewis who miscued first touch merely succeeded in delivering the ball at the feet of Rob Hulse. With the City back four appealing long and loud for an offside Hulse had time enough to pick his spot inside Robert Green's right-hand post as Norwich's hopes of keeping their hosts at bay ended in disappointment.
Skipper Craig Fleming led the offside appeals but referee Chris Foy and a distant linesman merely waved such protests away and the goal was allowed to stand.
With McKenzie working his hardest up front and Huckerby seemingly determined to give his former Elland Road pal Garry Kelly a difficult afternoon the Canaries were still working hard as the game reached the half hour mark.
Chances, however, were another matter with McVeigh lifting one brief opportunity well over the Leeds bar from some 25-yards distant.
At the other end Doherty and Shackell were both holding their ground in the face of Mr Hulse and Leeds, too, were struggling to find a clear sight of Green's goal.
Perhaps with that in mind the Elland Road announcer made a point of announcing events from the Ricoh Stadium where Coventry had taken a 1-0 lead against Leeds' promotion rivals Sheffield United - an act of encouragement that was probably not in the Football League rule book.
The game's first booking arrived in the 39th minute as Canary skipper Fleming flattened Liam Miller away on the far touchline.
From the resulting free-kick Hulse rose high above the City defence and his header appeared to be looping inside Green's left-hand post before the England World Cup prospect scrambled across his goal line to palm well away for a corner.
It was a rare moment of note as the two teams slugged it out in fairly unappetising fashion.
City did, at least, force Sullivan into action in the 41st minute when McVeigh drilled a hanging cross towards the penalty spot where both Sullivan and Butler waited. In the end, it was Sullivan who came to claim the ball as McKenzie challenged bravely.
With the fourth official announcing that there would be no more than one minute of added on time so the first period swiftly came to an end with just that one, controversial strike separating the two teams.
Given event at Selhurst Park the other week the 1200 travelling Canary fans might in the current climate be grateful for such small mercies.
Half-time: Leeds United 1, Norwich City 0.
With both teams resuming the second half unchanged it was the Canaries who were swifter out of the blocks. McKenzie hooked a teasing ball behind the Leeds back four for Huckerby to chase and it needed a smart piece of defensive work from the covering Kelly to deny the City winger a run at goal.
At the other end Hulse again threatened to wrestle free of his marker Doherty only for the Republic of Ireland international to prove the stronger as he came away with the ball.
With Hughes, in particular, leading by example in terms of closing Leeds down at every opportunity, the Canaries were enjoying their best spell of the game towards the hour mark. Indeed Sullivan was forced into a sharp save in front of his left-hand post in the 54th minute as Hughes whipped an excellent cross towards the far post where an outstretched leg from Doherty got the goal-bound touch.
Indeed City got their due rewards in the 57th minute when Charlton sent Hughes charging unmarked into the Leeds United box. The City midfielder took aim at Sullivan's left upright and in a flurry of bodies the ball eventually reared up and over the goal line.
It was, in fairness, all that both Norwich and Hughes deserved for their flying start to the second half.
Hughes himself headed straight for the City fans gathered away by the right-hand corner flag and their mutual celebration suggests that he might start to enjoy a rather more fruitful relationship with the club's long-suffering supporters.
Leeds' mounting frustration was evident in the shape of two bookings within three minutes - with McVeigh bearing the brunt of first Shaun Derry's anger and then Stephen Crainey's.
On both occasions the City winger had wriggled goal-side of his marker only to be hauled to the ground - a feat that the lumbering Gregan then repeated on McKenzie in the 66th minute.
With the natives growing increasingly restless - particularly in the knowledge that Sheffield United were coming unstuck at Coventry - manager Kevin Blackwell made his first change of the afternoon in the 69th minute with Northern Ireland international David Healy replacing Blake.
It was all becoming increasingly fast and furious as the temper of both the game and the crowd began to rack up another couple of notches as the minutes ticked away.
In the 74th minute City even had a chance to fire themselves ahead when Huckerby broke through the inside left channel and pulled an excellent low ball back through the Leeds penalty area for the arriving McVeigh to strike first time only for the ball to be deflected wide for a corner.
The ball would eventually float back to Doherty whose penalty spot header looped just over.
The Canaries did not, however, have too long to wait for their second when Huckerby again found McVeigh arriving on the edge of the Leeds box and this time his carefully aimed shot was spot on target as it rolled inside Sullivan's right-hand post with the keeper long beaten.
With the minutes fast ticking away from an ever more desperate Leeds Blackwell made his second change in the 78th minute with the ineffective Miller being replaced by Eirik Bakke.
The Canaries, remained unchanged although Worthington was clearly anxious for Safri to enter the fray - if only to waste a precious few more seconds. In the 83rd minute McVeigh almost sent Huckerby clear through with a fabulous through ball only for the covering Kelly to close the door at the last possible moment.
With seven minutes of the game remaining Worthington was finally able to make his substitution with Safri, as expected, replacing the tiring Charlton.
With five minutes of normal time left Worthington made his second change as last Saturday's goalscoring hero Jonatan Johansson replaced McKenzie.
Quite rightly the City striker was handed a standing ovation by the travelling Norwich fans after his tireless efforts leading the line on his own.
With the spaces now starting to open up at the back as Leeds threw everyone forward - including skipper Butler the Canaries conceded an 89th minute free-kick 10-yards outside the penalty area. It looked set to be United's last real chance to claw their way back into the contest - which Lewis duly did with a superbly flighted free-kick high into the top right-hand corner of Green's net.
In all fairness it was a stunning free-kick that the Canary keeper could do nothing about.
With the game now deep into four minutes of added on time Worthington made his final change with Earnshaw replacing Huckerby.
In what was proving a nail-biting finish Doherty managed to get himself booked for another challenge on Butler having been hauled up twice he let his frustration boil over and earned a yellow card for his troubles.
Seconds later and it was all over as the Canaries 'celebrated' an excellent away point.
The fact that Norwich's celebrations were muted merely revealed just how close they came to pulling off a famous victory.
Results: Leeds United 2, Norwich City 2.
Leeds: Sullivan, Kelly, Butler, Gregan, Crainey, Miller, Douglas, Derry, Lewis, Hulse, Blake. Subs: Bennett, Healy,
Bakke, Moore, Kilgallon.
Norwich: Green, Fleming, Doherty, Shackell, Drury, McVeigh, Hughes, Robinson, Charlton, Huckerby, McKenzie. Subs: Gallacher, Earnshaw, Johansson, Safri, Etuhu.
Referee: C Foy (Merseyside)