Nelson Oliveira bent the ball past Robert Green on 35 minutes to make it 3-0 to Norwich, and it looked to the world like Leeds’ play-off push was to go out with a whimper.
With ten minutes to go, however, Leeds had pulled it back to 3-3 – but they’d need to score a 4th if they were to keep their playoff hopes alive and gain points on Fulham, who were drawing at home to Brentford.
Despite a flurry of activity in the Norwich box the game ended up all square, and it wasn’t to be. It was a performance that perhaps encapsulated all that has been good and bad about United’s season. To come back from 3-0 down deserves much credit, but they will be left ruing what might have been.
Chris Wood pulled the first goal back on the stroke of half-time with the type of finish that has been his bread and butter all season. Kyle Bartley made it 3-2 before Pablo Hernandez curled in a picture postcard free-kick to send the home faithful into raptures, but Leeds just couldn’t find a winner and the all important fourth goal.
Mathematically, 6th place is still possible – but a swing in goal difference of 14 is not going to happen, with everybody now conceding that they have blown their chance for a return to the Premier League for another year.
Manager Garry Monk pulled no punches after the game, saying: “The reality is, the majority of the group were not quite ready for this situation. That’s not a criticism. It’s just a fact.”
With the season now effectively over, thoughts have turned back to the ownership of the club, with the question on most fans’ lips being how the situation will affect manager Garry Monk’s status. He’s the sixth manager of Massimo Cellino’s unpredictable three-year ownership, and this season with Monk at the helm he has brought some much-needed stability, and credibility back to the club.
Andrea Radrizzani purchased 50% of the club from fellow Italian, Cellino, in January. He now looks set to complete a full takeover this month, and with Monk’s 12-month contract expiring imminently, securing him to a long-term deal will be the perfect sweetener for Leeds fans who are still sore about how the campaign has ended.
Speaking at the club’s end of season awards night, Radrizzani spoke optimistically of the team’s fortunes: “From tomorrow it’s time to work to do better than what we’ve done. We’ve [had] an amazing season in terms of emotion and it gives us big hope that we’ve started something that could bring more joy in the future.”
In spite of what can be regarded as the best Leeds season since returning to the Championship from League One in 2010, it shouldn’t be forgotten that missing out on the playoffs this year has been a collapse of fairly epic proportions. 6 weeks ago a playoff spot looked nailed on. Monk will be acutely aware of the shortcomings, and will look for assurances from the new regime that he’ll be backed in the transfer market before he signs any new deal.
He has had a meager transfer budget to work with, and has got by using a mixture of young players and loan signings. They just weren’t set up to go all the way in what is a long and grueling 46 game campaign. If Radrizzani is serious about taking Leeds back into the Premier League, his second job after handing Monk a new deal will be giving him a generous transfer kitty which will give the team a better chance of lasting the pace next season.