Fear, loathing and Leeds United as Whites push back against suggestion - Graham Smyth's Verdict

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Leeds United will take their Championship play-off semi-final back to Elland Road after a 0-0 draw with Norwich City in the first leg and what do they have to fear?

Norwich is lovely of a sunny Sunday morning. Joggers and dog walkers sharing the pedestrianised streets and cobbles. Swans gliding down the River Wensum. A stunning cathedral. Visitors welcome. A very pleasant place to come for a kickabout. Not, you would think, the kind of place where a team could feel much in the way of trepidation, even with the best efforts of a little 1am firework crew outside Sprowston Manor where the Leeds squad were slumbering.

But still, the play-offs. The post-season source of so much historical trauma for this club. A concept of sporting administration to prompt loathing in Leeds. Do or die, as Daniel Farke said on Thursday. Not a time for fear. Nor a time for big, drastic changes, he also proffered in his pre-game press briefing. Except, of course, for the little matter of plopping an 18-year-old into the number 10 role out of the blue, for the very first time this season. A new competition, he called it. So a new look? Archie Gray playing behind Georginio Rutter had, at least, a look of bravery about it given the stakes. And in the end Farke was content that it played a part in allaying any fears about Leeds' poor recent form derailing their last promotion chance at Carrow Road. He was probably justified too, because even if the Gray-Rutter axis never clicked going forward, the 0-0 draw to which they contributed showed the defensive backbone Leeds became known for earlier in the season, before their late wobble.

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And in general terms, across the 90 minutes, was there anything to be really scared of? It was more pedestrian than petrifying, though the start, admittedly, was a little frenetic. Illan Meslier had to rush to clear Sam Byram's potentially disastrous back header, passes went astray, build up was far from smooth and Rutter, when brilliantly placed, kicked nothing but the warm air to squander Leeds' first chance. Willy Gnonto was denied a penalty and a free-kick all in the one movement, the latter likely the right call as referee Josh Smith allowed play to go on.

With Rutter struggling to hold the ball up and Gray not featuring in possession, Norwich had a significant spell of first half possession and exerted pressure without properly testing Meslier. Even a slew of set-pieces failed to put the frighteners on Farke's men.

Interceptions by Joe Rodon and Junior Firpo helped to stem the yellow tide and Gnonto popped up on the left and then centrally to try and get something going the other way. One-touch passing finally unlocked space, Rutter turned and reached the ball before Angus Gunn, allowing Junior Firpo to find the empty net. Lift off. Before the offside flag on the tightest of marginal decisions. Back down to earth. But no bump, because Leeds enjoyed a little more control in the latter stages of the half and, crucially, gave up no chances.

Play-off semi-final first legs can be tight affairs in which no one wants to blink first. So cagey was the expectation. The first half was somehow even cagier still. And the second half was the cagiest. Gabriel Sara drilled a good, early chance well wide but that was that really from Norwich in terms of promising offensive moments.

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Leeds themselves created if not golden chances then silver ones. Crysencio Summerville broke free from his defensive bindings to shoot from an impossible angle. Sam Byram miskicked inside the area. The visitors controlled possession more and more as Norwich wore the toll of a hot afternoon a little more visibly. Fresh legs seemed only to help the men in white as Farke withdrew Rutter and the yellow-carded Gnonto. A goal never came but in the latter stages there was only one end at which it seemed remotely likely. Dan James, fit enough for a handful of minutes, introduced a little panic and a lot of peril with a dangerous cross that no one had anticipated well enough to attack. It ended goalless. The Leeds players approached their fans and received an ovation that drew a reaction from their counterparts, but even if both managers insisted they were happy with what they saw, the momentum and the mood was with one side more than it was the other. No longer moving backwards, the Whites pushed back against any suggestion that they were done, cooked and out of energy.

So to Leeds on Thursday. Leeds, too, is lovely in the sun. Down by the river or the canal. The bars and restaurants. Very pleasant. But Elland Road is different in feel and sound. It is the kind of place where fear can be instilled in players' hearts, to unsettle their minds. And for a one-off game, a cup final of a semi-final second leg, it will be the strongest of mustard, requiring the strongest of stomachs. It's not for everyone, but Leeds call it home.

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