SIMON Grayson (pictured) praised his team’s performance despite Leeds United having to settle for a draw from their outstanding clash with promotion rivals Norwich City.
The Whites hit the woodwork twice and were denied by some incredible blocks and a last-gasp injury-time save by John Ruddy to deny Billy Paynter his first Leeds goal. But they needed a stunning volley by super-sub Davide Somma with his very first touch to earn a point after seeing their early lead overturned.
“I was disappointed we didn’t win the game because I felt we had enough chances, especially in the first half,” said Leeds boss Grayson.
“It was an entertaining game, great for both sets of supporters. But it would have been an absolute travesty if we hadn’t have got anything out of the game because we played very well and played to the game plan we set up.
“By half-time the game could have been over. We hit the bar and hit the post and had other chances as well.
“We know Norwich were a threat with Holt and Hoolahan in their team, but they didn’t really create many chances in the first half and I thought we played very well. I said to the players at half-time don’t let their goal disappoint you, keep playing with the same spirit and you would get your rewards.
“We had other opportunities in the second half to kill the game off and Davide did what he does best. It was a volley out of the highest order and a great strike with his first touch.
“It was a tough decision whether to start him or not, but I just felt we needed the extra body in midfield because they play with a diamond and could have got overrun.
“He even had a great opportunity at the back end as well when Whitbread made a great clearance when Davide was just a yard out.
“We then got an opportunity with Billy (Paynter) right at the end and one of these days he’s going to score for Leeds United.
“You’ve just got to say to him keep going. Once one goes in they will start flying in because he’s a good goalscorer and he knows where the back of the net is. In this case the keeper made a good save.
“It was one of those games where we should have won, but I thought overall it was a cracking game with both teams going for it and playing in the right manner.”
Grayson saw value in the draw against a rival team.
He added: “It means that we’ve not let Norwich get away from us and we are still in the pack.
“It’s going to go right down to the wire. I’ve listened to the other managers talking and they’re all saying it’s going to go down to the last few weeks of the season and I don’t disagree.
“All we can do is keep playing in the right manner. It’s another game we’ve remained unbeaten in a sequence of games.
“Tuesday night becomes a big game now as we look to keep the pressure on the teams in and around us.
“We’ve got a few tired bodies because they worked ever so hard for each other, but the preparation for the Barnsley game starts now and they’ll be ready. It’s a good game to have on the back of this performance,”
United started impressively as Jonny Howson, back in his attacking midfield role, went within inches of opening the scoring in the third minute and Luciano Becchio saw a header bounce back off the post straight to the relieved Ruddy.
Becchio had more joy on 17 minutes when he bundled home from close range after Robert Snodgrass’s back header had looped over the keeper.
Snodgrass had a big shout for a penalty turned down, although Norwich gradually came into the contest, forcing home keeper Kasper Schmeichel into a good save to keep out David Fox’s long range strike.
Howson was unlucky again as his fiercely struck shot hit the crossbar, but the visitors equalised in first half injury-time when Grant Holt headed the ball back for Arsenal loanee Henri Lansbury to score with a well struck shot.
Roared on by a 31,000 plus crowd, Leeds were on top at the start of the second half as George McCartney and Max Gradel forced saves and Howson came within inches again with a shot deflected just wide.
But after riding their luck resilient Norwich hit the post through Holt and with the Whites still at sixes and sevens in defence the visitors went ahead as Wes Hoolahan got free down the right and his goalbound shot was helped into the net by Elland Road debutant Eric Lichaj.
Grayson threw on striker Somma for midfielder Niel Kilkenny and the switch paid instant dividends as within 34 seconds the substitute struck with a volley from the edge of the box to make it 2-2.
That was how it stayed until the final whistle, although there was one last chance in the final minute as second sub Paynter stretched to get a shot in only to see Ruddy get a hand to it and deflect the ball agonisingly the wrong side of the post. It was rough justice, especially as Paynter was having his shirt tugged and a penalty should have been awarded.
Leeds United 2
(Becchio 17, Somma 75)
Norwich City 2
(Lansbury 45, Hoolahan 68)
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Leeds: Schmeichel, Lichaj, Bruce, O’Brien, McCartney, Snodgrass, Kilkenny (Somma 74), Howson, Johnson, Gradel, Becchio (Paynter 90)
Norwich: Ruddy, R Martin, Ward, Whitbread, Drury (Tierney 90), Crofts, Fox, Hoolahan, Lansbury (Surman 74), Wilbrahim, Holt.
Referee: Neil Swarbrick.