Leeds United's failed worst nightmare leaves Farke in new territory while Rodon can't hide dismay

Daniel Farke oversaw a Leeds United draw at Norwich City in the first leg of their Championship play-off semi-final -Credit:Joe Toth/REX/Shutterstock
Daniel Farke oversaw a Leeds United draw at Norwich City in the first leg of their Championship play-off semi-final -Credit:Joe Toth/REX/Shutterstock

The Patrick Bamford narrative trundles on, even when he’s not in the same county as his team-mates. That’s the thing about this relationship between Bamford and Leeds United supporters, he’s either playing brilliantly and being adored, playing badly and being chastised or absent entirely and being missed.

Sunday only seemed to revisit the long-running list of Bamford deputies who struggle to make an impact at the tip of a Leeds attack. Georginio Rutter spent the first half of the season leading the line to little great effect, but shifting him forward if it meant Archie Gray replacing Joel Piroe felt like a decent, if bold, call from Daniel Farke.

More on Gray later, but Rutter, as has been the case since his hernia surgery, underwhelmed. In theory, his pace and mobility should have been a worst nightmare for Ben Gibson and Shane Duffy, but he was never involved in the cut and thrust of the game.

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An early air kick on an opening inside the penalty box set the tone. Rutter was like a brick wall. The ball seemed to bounce off him every time it came to him. Whenever he did set off on a dribble, every touch was disjointed, heavy and inviting a Canary to dispossess him.

This latest blunt episode leaves Farke in a strange place. For the first time this season, going into the 48th league game of the campaign, the manager has a legitimate cause for dropping Rutter on form grounds.

The dearth of alternatives to play off the side’s main striker has long meant Rutter has been the best option there, but with Gray holding his own, the fans might call for Mateo Joseph over Rutter on Thursday night. Farke’s selections up to now have left little doubt he does not fully trust the Spaniard, so it’s going to be Rutter vs Piroe in his eyes.

Farke rolls the dice and adds another string to Gray’s bow

A change at full-back, perhaps another shuffle in the engine room, but very few people could have foreseen Farke pushing Gray into the attacking hole on Sunday for such an important game. The teenager’s brought so much quality to so many roles this season, nothing is rightly off the table when it comes to his development pathway, but after a campaign of largely cautious decisions, this felt adventurous from the manager.

It seemed to be a stone that would hit three birds with one throw. The midfield needed bolstering with a reliable runner who liked a tackle and wouldn’t entirely abandon Glen Kamara or Ilia Gruev, while Rutter needed a change to snap him out of his malaise and Piroe needed to be taken out of the firing line.

The aforementioned striker issue remains, but Gray played his part in what was a far more robust and combative unit. There may not have been any key passes from the youth nor a bewitching control, a la Stamford Bridge, but he was impressive in pockets of the game.

Kenny McLean, the commanding 32-year-old veteran of two Championship titles under Farke, was only too happy to make his presence felt early on with Gray. The Leeds man did not hide away from that challenge, though. He grew into the game and the more it wore on the more space and confidence he found.

It’s a change that needs to remain on Thursday night.

Meslier has to hold off his Casilla moment

Sheer mention of the play-offs will send shivers down many Leeds spines. Who can forget the Elland Road calamity between Kiko Casilla and Liam Cooper which effectively signalled the beginning of the end in that Derby County tie of 2019?

Casilla always took risks with the ball at his feet and always backed himself to play his way out of trouble, no matter how effectively the opposition were pressing him and his backline. The Spaniard was the archetypal modern goalkeeper, keen to play out from the back, whatever the circumstances.

Ultimately, that second leg at Elland Road against Derby was when all of his chickens came home to roost. You might remember the images that were taken of him standing 40 yards from his own goal during open play.

Illan Meslier has never curdled blood in the same way, but he has certainly had his moments over the years. Sunday saw three or four occasions where his passing left the team in the lurch. The goalkeeper was consistently taking the wrong option or executing the right option poorly.

Long before the end Joe Rodon was not even hiding his dismay with some of the service the goalkeeper was giving him and their defence. The most notable was when Meslier went to pass to Ilia Gruev on the edge of their box when he was surrounded by three Norwich City attackers.

Yes, Gruev’s first touch was heavy, but it was understandable in those circumstances. Meslier simply did not need to play him a hospital pass like that. In knockout football like this, when there aren’t another 30 matches to make amends, errors, especially in his position, will consign United to another 12 months of Championship status.

With the second leg to come, Meslier has to get these errors out of his system and avoid having his own Casilla moment.

Elland Road gets its chance to play a decisive part

On the field, it’s as you were in this tie. There has been no change other than 90 fewer minutes to make a difference, so the major shift in the sands of this game is the surroundings.

Carrow Road had its chance, waved some flags, unfurled a stand-wide banner and sang some songs, but could not force their team into a lead. Enter: Elland Road. The circus moves 143 miles north-west for an 8pm date on Thursday under the lights. If 2019 is anything to go by, it will be rocking.

Leeds have to be the happier of the two teams as attention turns to West Yorkshire. David Wagner and Norwich will rightly talk up the level pegging in the scoreline, but home advantage counts for so much and the Whites will be delighted to come away with a level playing field.

If they can play as they did yesterday, they will stand themselves in very good stead for a Wembley trip, but concede early and fail to muster a swift response and we know how shaky Elland Road can become.