It transpires that Norwich City’s second string is no better than Leeds United’s. In 10 days, at Carrow Road, the clubs will see how their first teams match up, but it was Leeds who reached the League Cup’s quarter-finals last night, hanging on for dear life in a sensational tie.
There were changes aplenty at Elland Road, 16 in all across both line-ups, but the suspicion that Norwich would carry a reshuffle better proved unfounded after a disallowed ‘goal’ woke up Garry Monk’s players late in the first half.
Norwich had been sitting prettily on an early header from Alex Pritchard, but an easy evening got out of hand as Leeds bullied City out of the fourth-round game and out of the League Cup on penalties.
Kyle Bartley’s effort from a corner on 39 minutes, ruled out for the use of a hand, caused some consternation at Elland Road, but became the cue for Norwich to back off and lie down. Marcus Antonsson equalised at the end of Leeds’ next attack and, with the wind and a crowd of 22,222 behind them, Monk’s side pressed Norwich mercilessly for the rest of the tie. It was only by virtue of a staggering miss from Alex Mowatt that City – Monk’s tip for the Championship title – fought their way into extra-time and found Leeds reduced to 10 men by an injury to Lewis Coyle.
Coyle left the field in the 90th minute with all three substitutions used, allowing Norwich to assert themselves and pinch a 2-1 lead through Nelson Oliveira. The forward was unmarked and at close range on 98 minutes as Leeds, outnumbered and under pressure, tried desperately to push through to penalties but went missing in front of Silvestri. Wobbled by that, Monk’s side found a way to draw level again with 10 minutes left as substitutes Hadi Sacko and Chris Wood combined to beat England goalkeeper John Ruddy. In the shoot-out that ensued, Silvestri met penalties from Alex Pritchard, Steven Naismith and Robbie Brady as Norwich wilted in front of the Kop. Eighteen-year-old Ronaldo Vieira showed more backbone and settled the contest with a cool finish to Ruddy’s right. Elland Road erupted in response to an improbably brilliant victory. It was fitting on an evening when Leeds honoured Gary Sprake, their former goalkeeper, that Silvestri’s agility should steal the show.
The use of a weakened side was Monk’s prerogative and Neil’s decision to do the same said much about the mindset of managers in the Championship, and the performance of various fringe players initially failed to give Leeds a prayer. It went without saying that Monk’s selections were about resting certain squad members as opposed to giving others a go, but if his preferred team looked settled before kick-off, it was picking itself easily until Antonsson scored. With that, Leeds cut loose and all bets were off. A vocal audience lapped up the drama.
A concerted push on ticket sales – Leeds’ response to the small crowd seen against Blackburn Rovers in the previous round – paid off to the extent that Elland Road was verging on a sell-out of all sections bar the closed South Stand with an hour to go before kick-off. The interest vindicated the decision to hack prices down to as little as £2.50 for Under-11s and queues were backed up outside long after the first whistle.
The attendance heightened the pressure on Monk to deliver in a competition that was always likely to know its place behind the Championship, but he went his own way with a line-up showing eight changes and including the irregular names of Silvestri, Souleymane Doukara and Matt Grimes. Gaetano Berardi made his return from a hamstring strain at left-back, but Pontus Jansson – clattered twice during Saturday’s win at Molineux – was nowhere to be seen.
Monk’s decisions were reciprocated by Neil, who made eight changes of his own. The underlying message from the respective teams was that Neil’s scope for a second-choice side was stronger than Monk’s and Norwich had proven as much by trampling over Everton at Goodison Park in round three. Ultimately, a barnstorming fourth-round tie said differently.
Leeds honoured Sprake before kick-off with a minute’s applause and the tie did not reach the end of its first minute before Silvestri invoked the best side of Sprake’s game with an urgent diving save.
That scare set the early tone and Pritchard’s goal on 14 minutes appeared to cement it. Leeds were opened up from their own corner and unable to retreat quickly enough as Norwich hacked a Kemar Roofe header up field. Brady’s cross from the left sat up nicely for Pritchard, who cushioned home a diving header.
Norwich’s passing and movement, slick and precise, was a problem and Monk’s front three of Roofe, Antonsson and Doukara were asked to feed on meagre scraps for half-an-hour. It took Silvestri’s fingertips to stop Brady adding a second goal with a curling shot.
Controversy brewed at the other end of the pitch when Bartley bundled the ball into City’s net from Mowatt’s corner five minutes before the interval. Leeds celebrated the finish but referee Andy Woolmer looked to one of his linesmen before pulling Bartley back for handball, booking him in the process.
Three minutes later, Roofe hustled Godfrey out of a high ball inside the box and crossed to the far post where Doukara took the unselfish option and squared for Antonsson. The Swede was a foot from the goalline and flicked the ball beyond an absent Ruddy.
After so long without putting a foot wrong, errors crept into Norwich’s game. The crowd were pleased to have a game in front of them and pleased to see Monk’s players join the party. As Leeds began to dominate the 50-50 balls, Norwich lost all control, but it took another excellent stop from Silvestri to keep Oliveira’s effort out of the top corner after Bartley allowed the forward to skip around him. Monk reacted to that chance by sending on Wood and ending Antonsson’s creditable effort.
With 20 minutes remaining there was already a sense of extra-time looming, but Norwich were indebted to Mowatt for allowing them to complete 90 unscathed. The midfielder found an empty net in front of him, but a swiped volley from six yards floated wide. It was a miss as glaring as most Elland Road has seen over the years. It threatened to cost Leeds, as did Coyle’s reluctant exit in stoppage-time.
When Brady clipped a low corner to Pritchard on the edge of the box, Oliveira was waiting to dispatch a perfect cross from a few yards out. Monk was ready to forgive his players that and so was Elland Road, but with 110 minutes on the clock, Sacko attacked and forced Ruddy to palm a cross into the path of Wood.
His tap-in pushed Leeds into a shoot-out and Silvestri’s saves won the night. Of all the results conjured by Monk and his players this season, none compare to this.