As the strains of Kaiser Chiefs’ I Predict A Riot blasted out of the sound system and jubilant Leeds players engulfed Joe Gelhardt, their Norwich counterparts simply sat down on the pitch, seemingly unable to comprehend what had just happened.
Dean Smith’s team were not alone. When, in the 91st minute, Kenny McLean equalised for a Norwich side still stuck to the bottom of the Premier League, Jesse Marsch looked close to despair. Marcelo Bielsa’s successor had seen his Leeds players dominate an increasingly bad-tempered game before losing concentration and control in the closing stages. Then, in the 92nd minute Marsch flicked his final tactical switch, introducing Gelhardt’s attacking talent.
Two minutes later the 19-year-old stabbed home the winner after Raphinha rounded Tim Krul and as Elland Road celebrated the first win of Marsch’s tenure, Smith’s world collapsed. “Jesus, where do I start,” said Norwich’s manager when he was asked to describe what had occurred. “We’ll be sore for a while now.”
As the sight of the Leeds director of football, Victor Orta, breaking down in tears at the final whistle confirmed, the end of the team’s run of eight games without a win, and six successive defeats, felt momentous. “There was a lot of emotion,” said Marsch, looking very much the All American coach in his jeans and sneakers combo. “I’d heard a lot about the magic of Elland Road and we felt it.
“We deserved to win and I think it can be pivotal. It’s a massive three points and, on my deathbed, I’ll reflect on this day, it was a special moment for the club and the entire city. The points are big but the moment’s even bigger.”
Marsch talked approvingly of “increased tactical clarity” on the pitch but significantly his first win coincided with Patrick Bamford’s first start since Leeds’ key striker suffered an ankle injury in September.
Bamford’s intelligent movement unnerved Norwich and it was telling that Smith’s team only came into the game after his withdrawal due to tiredness at half-time. “Patrick had a very impactful 45 minutes,” said Marsch whose wife and children had travelled from the United States to watch the game.
They celebrated Leeds taking a 14th-minute lead. Although Ozan Kabak diverted Diego Llorente’s long ball with his head it fell into the path of the influential Dan James, who controlled it on his chest. Norwich expected James to cross to the heavily marked Bamford but instead he laid off for Rodrigo to unleash a half-volley which flew into a bottom corner, courtesy of a deflection off Ben Gibson.
It prompted wild home celebrations involving almost the entire Leeds team and backroom staff, as Smith and his staff simmered with rage after spotting that Bamford was well offside. However the striker was not interfering with play and Leeds had the first goal of Marsch’s tenure. From then on his side were very much in the ascendant, with the reassuringly revitalised Raphinha seeing a volley rebound off the bar.
Luke Ayling survived a VAR review for a potential red card after Stuart Attwell booked him for catching Milot Rashica on an ankle with his studs but Norwich could count themselves fortunate to be merely a single goal down at half-time after Raphinha’s ball left Bamford clean through.
Hats off to Krul for keeping his cool, advancing off his line and forcing the striker into shooting wide by making himself big and narrowing the angles.
With James’s rapid change of pace persistently destabilising Norwich and Adam Forshaw and Mateusz Klich doing a decent job of holding the home midfield together, Leeds could easily have been three up at that point.
Early in the second half James had a “goal” disallowed for offside but, no longer worried about Bamford’s movement, Norwich improved slightly.
Even so the recently overworked home goalkeeper Illan Meslier found himself reduced to a largely spectating role as the visitors became frustrated with Max Aarons’s decision to engage Jack Harrison in a running feud emblematic of their fragile collective mindset.
This mood was worsened appreciably after a VAR review denied Norwich a penalty initially awarded in the wake of Ayling’s sliding challenge on Rashica. As Attwell consulted his pitchside monitor players gathered by the technical to argue about the incident in an animated debate sparked by Aarons.
Eventually Attwell agreed it was not a penalty, Aarons was booked and the action resumed with Leeds vindicated in their view that Rashica had deliberately fallen over Ayling’s outstretched leg.
Yet such righteous indignation proved unnecessarily distracting and when McLean met Teemu Pukki’s cross he scored the equaliser.
Gelhardt’s narrative-changing moment had arrived and seconds after he won an unlikely header and directed it into Raphinha’s path his finish left Marsch literally jumping for joy.