Leeds United 1-3 Norwich City Six Things: Canaries soar to the summit at Elland Road

Teemu Pukki – bbc.co.uk

Norwich City have gone top of the Championship with a statement victory on Saturday teatime, with Daniel Farke’s Canaries winning 3-1 at prime promotion rivals Leeds United. Here’s our Six Things from an outstanding victory for the Yellows.

Leeds’ midfield issues

A problem for Leeds United throughout the contest was the absence of a disciplined midfielder. Adam Forshaw represented the closest thing to that, but he has previously been the man linking defence with attack and arguably lacked the discipline for the role, especially in a midfield that contained Tyler Roberts, a forward by trade and Mateusz Klich, who himself needs freedom. Norwich exploited that vulnerability with ruthless incision, as Onel Hernandez’s quick, skilful runs made him a vital outlet. The Cuban-born wide forward won a free-kick off Forshaw after just six minutes, from which Mario Vrancic curled home a delightful left-footed effort, albeit via the slightest of deflections. The sooner Kalvin Phillips comes back into Bielsa’s eleven, the better for the Whites.

Dogged Norwich defending

Leeds applied pressure for much of the first half and there was not too much wrong with the tempo of their play. Klich struck two venomous shots off target and had one blocked by Ben Godfrey; Ezgjan Alioski escaped Emiliano Buendia’s attentions to drive wide of the far post, then knocked the ball over the top for Roberts to prompt a desperate foul from onrushing goalkeeper Tim Krul, who in turn denied Kemar Roofe from close-range. The West Yorkshire side had more of the play, but could not breach a resolute Canaries rear-guard, with Vrancic and Tommy Trybull getting through some excellent defensive work.

A Teemu player

Teemu Pukki furthered his reputation as the signing of the Championship season on 35 minutes. After some good approach play from Buendia, Vrancic dug out a shot that was parried by Kiko Casilla into the path of the Finnish false nine, who tapped home from close-range. That touch was one of just 32 that Pukki took all-game while in the previous victory, he only made contact with the ball 26 times. For a player that has already scored 18 goals, the 28-year-old is remarkably selfless, because he focuses on making decoy runs away from the general direction of play, thus creating space for the likes of Stiepermann, Hernandez and Buendia. Centre-backs therefore do not man mark Pukki, which could be why he is so often able to make decisive late runs into the box to gobble up close-range finishes, as he did for the second.

Subdued Whites response

Marcelo Bielsa sent on Barry Douglas and Jack Clarke at the interval in hope of saving the contest but if anything, Leeds’ performance level regressed as Norwich looked likelier to score the next goal. Following left-sided play involving Stiepermann, Alioski failed to clear presenting Max Aarons with a chance to bag a third just after the hour-mark, but the 18-year-old right-back dragged wide of the near-post in an otherwise wonderful individual display. The other full-back, Jamal Lewis, continued to get forward and it was him who set up the third goal, dragging back for the outstanding Vrancic to tuck under the suspect Casilla.

Blip for Bielsa’s boys

Patrick Bamford marked a bright substitute appearance by scoring an injury-time header moments after hitting the crossbar. However, the striker’s consolation could not prevent a fourth defeat for Leeds in their last six league games, a run which must be classified as a blip. Marcelo Bielsa could make allowances for two of those defeats, like the 2-0 loss at Hull when they were denied by frequent blocks and the 4-2 undoing at Nottingham Forest that was influenced by Kalvin Phillips’ red card. What will worry the Argentine most, however, is how his side never truly applied any pressure in the second half of this match and, dare we say, looked slightly jaded. After the January move for Daniel James fell through at the eleventh hour, Bielsa must re-jig his small squad to deliver more displays high on intensity and quality, as we saw earlier in the campaign, to keep the promotion push on track.

Canaries soar to the summit

Even the most casual Championship follower will know that Norwich have played some great football this season. At Elland Road however, they showed the nation more clearly the other side of their game, which is the work they do without the ball to stop their opponents gaining clear cut chances. They combined flashes of that excellent interplay for which they have become synonymous with grit, determination and discipline to maintain their defensive shape. It was fitting, in many ways, that it was with that type of display that they went top of the league – the Yellows look there to stay, too.