There was no rallying cry, no guttural exhortation, no last-ditch roar of hope. The Carrow Road tannoy informed Norwich’s faithful that their team would have five added minutes to salvage this game and possibly to dredge some meaning from this most bleak of seasons, but the news was met with barely a murmur. This was apathy rather than open revolt: the atmosphere had been equable throughout but that had its own implications. There are still 28 games left but the acceptance phase of grief has reached these parts with alarming speed and, on this evidence, only a wild optimist would suggest the Canaries are in for anything beyond a long and painful winter.
In the moments after Anthony Taylor blew for full time, Tim Krul walked towards the Barclay end and raised his hands in a mea culpa. It was Krul who let Rodrigo’s speculative shot slip through him on the hour, puncturing the swell of something resembling belief that Andrew Omobamidele’s equaliser had inspired. Norwich never recovered; Leeds were nothing special here, still well short of recapturing their old vim, but comfortably saw out a win that should postpone any lurch into crisis mode for Marcelo Bielsa.
It means the question marks over Bielsa’s opposite number, Daniel Farke, grow bolder. Despite Norwich’s miserable haul of two points, which extends across 20 top-flight games if their end to the 2019-20 season is accounted for, that feels slightly harsh. He is a good man and has done an outstanding job leading Norwich, directionless when he arrived, to two promotions. But, as the sporting director, Stuart Webber, reminded everyone on Wednesday, he has been better equipped this time around: Norwich and their glut of recruits are yet to make a fist of things and, as a minimum, that must surely change soon.
“We are not playing for warm words, we are playing for points,” Farke said. “If you don’t achieve them in games like this, it’s difficult to achieve our targets and earn the right to stay in the league.”
Two seasons ago Norwich’s quixotic endeavours did indeed earn praise even if they were ultimately blown away. Now they simply look blunt when on the front foot and porous in their attempts to tighten up; it is a mix that will, at this rate, mean their latest yo-yo back to the Championship is sealed well before May. “What is lacking is the quality in both boxes,” the head coach admitted.
There was no shortage of effort and Norwich could contend that, in a frayed first half, they had held the upper hand. A skittish Leeds had created the only genuine chance, Dan James skipping around Krul before seeing Grant Hanley stretch to clear off the line, but it was clear Farke had sent his players out to show some initiative. Driving runs from Ozan Kabak, Mathias Normann and Kenny McLean kept interest levels high; Teemu Pukki flashed wide from 18 yards and Milot Rashica, lively on the left, made Illan Meslier sprawl to save from distance.
It was a sight more palatable than the surrender at Chelsea. But 11 minutes into the second half Norwich were punctured when Raphinha, back from injury, received James’ swept pass and jinked inside from the right. Past Omobamidele, past Hanley, one step ahead ofKabak’s pained lunge: he drilled low past Krul for an opener out of keeping with proceedings and Leeds, hitherto loose, had their breakthrough.
They might have wished the game was still goalless given the apparent change in momentum when Omobamidele rose to meet a Rashica corner conceded sloppily by Meslier, and head his first senior goal. Seasons have turned on less for relegation strugglers but Norwich instantly threw their reprieve away. First Kabak was robbed by Pascal Struijk; then the otherwise patchy Kalvin Phillips took the initiative and found Rodrigo, whose strike from almost 30 yards perhaps dipped late but should still not have beaten Krul.
“The performance was a deserved victory,” said Bielsa. “It wasn’t an easy game to play for us.” Leeds finally gathered composure when ahead for the second time and looked likelier to score the next goal. The margins in the table’s nether reaches were so fine at the outset, though, that any other outcome would have seen Bielsa fielding the tough questions.
Instead those were reserved for Farke. “There’s only 20 managers allowed to work on this level, 20 teams to play in this level, and, if you can’t handle that pressure, you cannot work here,” he said.
Bielsa made a point of praising Farke’s “spiritual fortitude”; Norwich already need an act of god, and everyone here knew it.