Leeds United said farewell to Elland Road for the 2016/17 season on a frustrating but entertaining afternoon last Saturday. The nerves around the fixture could be felt around all Leeds fans last week, but as I entered Elland Road, the atmosphere was not one of nerves but one of support. The stadium was buzzing. Even when the result started to go south, the crowd didn’t seem to lose faith, knowing this wasn’t the team we had become used to - that team showed up after the break.
We didn’t make the playoffs but the match itself was a roller-coaster. We’ll analyze the season to death in the weeks to come, but here are our three takeaway points from the game that ended our hopes for promotion in 2017.
Talking Point 1: Eunan O'Kane’s inclusion made a big difference
For me, at the beginning of the season when we were struggling, I felt we were missing something that would link up the whole team. Enter Eunan O’Kane: the Irish international arrived from Bournemouth with a promotion pedigree and straight away made the difference. I think O’Kane was the catalyst for the improvement we saw throughout September and October, and I was a little disappointed not to see him more regular in the latter stages of the season.
On Saturday, we saw his quality in the centre of midfield. His ability to find the space to pick the ball and find a forward pass is something we have missed over the last few months. I was impressed with his ability around the opposition’s box too: he often got forward and made direct runs into the box which made the team look extra dangerous in a attacking sense. Let’s hope he features again on Saturday.
A poor first 45mins but threw everything at it in the second half. One of the greatest atmospheres I have ever played in front of!#MOT— Eunan O'Kane (@eunan10) April 29, 2017
Talking Point 2: A slow start costs us again
One of only a few criticisms I have of Leeds this season was their inability to take charge of games in the first half. We all knew the importance of Saturday’s game and we expected our side to try and take a foothold of the fixture in the first half as a result... but that didn’t happen.
We played nervous, or like an away side throughout the half. Norwich moved the ball well between us, Leeds looked for more direct balls, and that’s not the Leeds side we’ve come use to seeing this season. The Naismith goal appeared to stun us like a Josh Warrington right hook and we allowed Norwich to seize control.
We improved in the second half when our backs were against the wall, but if we had the same level of heart throughout the first 45 minutes when we had a chance to take the game over ourselves, we would still be in a good position for promotion.
Monk said the lesson to learn from today was about playing under pressure at 0-0, not when there's nothing to lose. #lufc— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) April 29, 2017
Talking Point 3: The performance in the second half gives hope for next season
The first half was poor and had the game ended 0-3, we all would have had right to be upset. But what we saw in the second half was the quality this squad of Leeds players possess. If we can keep the spine of the team, and most importantly Garry Monk and his management team in place, this squad can go even further next season.
The lads knew they had to give everything in the second half or the playoffs were gone. It was clear to everyone at Elland Road just how much that meant to every single player on that pitch and how much as a team they were together. I mentioned in the preview that all we expect from every player lucky enough to represent our wonderful club is that 'they give everything for it.'
With their backs against the wall and pride of the club on the line, every single one of them lived up to that expectation in the second half against Norwich, and we have to hope that the majority of them will be back (with some reinforcements) to make another push for promotion in 2017/18.
The lights have been turned off for the last time this season at Elland Road and as we look forward to Wigan on Saturday, we also look to the summer and what will define this period in the club’s history. The main thing I took from Saturday is how much we need Garry Monk as our manager going forward.
Hundreds still in the South Stand, saluting Garry Monk. He applauds back. We've seen this before. His future the first priority now. #lufc— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) April 29, 2017
We’ll see what happens with Radrizzani and Cellino, Monk and Clotet, and all the rest over the course of the summer. Here’s hoping we get a chance to do this all again with a better result in 2018. Before that, Wigan on Sunday. MOT.