united we stand graffiti

Norwich City were dumped out of the 2023/24 EFL Championship playoffs in unceremonious fashion at the semi-final stage. The Canaries, who held Leeds United to a goalless draw in their first leg encounter at Carrow Road, were swept aside with staggering ease at a rocking Elland Road.

Sixth-placed Norwich had the 19th worst away form in the regular season, with David Wagner’s men relying heavily on their home results to snatch the fourth and final playoff spot. Therefore, it was somewhat surprising to see Wagner play conservatively in the home leg at Carrow Road, knowing that his squad lacks the dynamism to thrive away from home.

Even with Ashley Barnes back in their forward line, Norwich looked laboured and leggy throughout the second leg. The pressure cooker atmosphere that the Leeds fans created undoubtedly contributed to the Canaries’ downfall too. Their game plan will have been to silence the home supporters and keep the game tight in the opening exchanges. So to concede inside seven minutes to a speculative free kick will have been a major kick in the teeth for Wagner and his players.

To be three goals down at the interval was disastrous for Norwich, who simply couldn’t stem the tide. It could have been much worse than a 4-0 loss in the second half but for a few smart saves from keeper, Angus Gunn. Leeds, managed by former Norwich boss, Daniel Farke, dealt with the magnitude of the occasion remarkably well to set up a Championship playoff final with Southampton to try and join Leicester City and Ipswich Town in the top flight next season.

The EFL Championship playoff final is dubbed the biggest game in football. With a prize of £150m+ up for grabs and the chance to win a trophy at Wembley, it’s no surprise that the eyes of the football world fixate on North-West London for this fixture. Even those who normally bet on football markets in the Premier League will wager on this emotive contest, where the winners etch their name in club folklore and the losers have to lick their wounds and go again next season.

Norwich’s squad is already licking its collective wounds. Boss, Wagner, has already received his P45 too, with the Canaries opting to go in a different direction in 2024/25. The heaviness of the defeat at Elland Road will have alarmed the Norwich hierarchy. It was the heaviest defeat in a Championship playoff semi-final since May 2000 when Barnsley won 4-0 at Birmingham to secure a playoff final berth against Norwich’s bitter rivals, Ipswich.

Was Birmingham’s first leg loss to Barnsley in 2000 eclipsed?

It’s difficult to say, in truth. Barnsley and Birmingham only finished five points apart in the regular season of the 1999/00 Championship campaign, so the 4-0 away win more than raised a few eyebrows.

Barnsley’s win happened in almost reverse fashion to Leeds’ hammering of Norwich. They got their noses in front in the first half through Neil Shipperley, but it was two goals in 12 second half minutes which really caused the Blues’ collapse. Barnsley had the luxury of being able to lose the second leg 2-1 to seal a place at the old Wembley.

It was the manner of the performance from Norwich which left a sour taste in the mouths of all their travelling supporters. It was wave upon wave of Leeds attacks, with the Norwich frontline unable to retain possession and bring others into play whatsoever. It was almost like watching a non-league side try to hang tough in an FA Cup 3rd Round tie against a Premier League giant.

leeds billy bremner statue

Nevertheless, this Leeds United side is jam-packed with players capable of plying their trade in the Premier League and helping the Whites to reassert themselves at the top table of English and European football. After all, United were two-time winners of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, which was the predecessor to the UEFA Europa League.

Their squad contains superstars like Georginio Rutter, who cost the West Yorkshire side a club record fee in the region of £32m-£35m. As for Norwich’s roster, only Gabriel Sara and Josh Sargent may be able to survive and thrive in the top-flight from this crop of players. It promises to be a serious summer of change for the Canaries, with a new manager expected and a squad revamp due without the aid of Premier League parachute payments.