The disruption to the football season in England, as well as in Europe and beyond, has left the possible outcomes of the 2019/20 campaign in serious doubt for several clubs. The Premier League and the EFL have announced that all footballing activity is suspended until April 30th at the earliest, but with the nation now virtually in a state of lockdown, it is still uncertain as to when the current season will be completed.
Today, we look back at a past match-up between two teams whose current league campaigns lie very much in the balance. This week, 10 years ago, Norwich City and Leeds United went head-to-head at Carrow Road, in a game which had big implications for the League One promotion race.
The two clubs, who between them had spent a considerable number of years in the top-flight previously, battled it out at the top of English football’s third tier throughout the 2009/10 season. Leeds had looked comfortable at the table’s summit after starting very strongly, holding a 15-point cushion at one stage, but their impressive form tailed off in the new year, allowing Norwich to overtake them as league leaders. However, the race to win the title wasn’t over just yet.
A tense encounter
The match itself was a particularly scrappy affair; often a typicality for a nervy, top of the table clash. A total of six yellow cards (three for each side) were handed out by referee Lee Probert, as well as a red for Leeds’ Tresor Kandol in second half stoppage time. The FA’s decision to award the game to Probert, who was in the PGMOL’s Select Group of officials at the time, emphasised this particular meeting’s magnitude. He went on to referee the FA Cup final in 2014.
Clear chances to score were few and far between, with Leeds having to do without striker Luciano Becchio for the majority of the game. He was stretchered off 15 minutes in after being caught by the high boot of City centre-back Michael Nelson.
Becchio was one of four players included in the Leeds squad on the day to make the direct switch from Elland Road to Norfolk later in their careers. The quartet of deals for Bradley Johnson, Jonny Howson, Robert Snodgrass and the Argentine covered four successive transfer windows, a period starting in the summer of 2011 and ending in January 2013. Of the four players, Becchio had the least successful time in NR1, failing to net a single goal in 16 appearances.
Norwich were very strong on home turf throughout their season in League One (losing just twice before this fixture) but came up against a stubborn Whites defence who restricted the threat of the likes of Grant Holt and Wes Hoolahan effectively. Ultimately, it was Canaries manager Paul Lambert’s use of the players on his bench that proved to be the difference, as two substitutes combined late on to clinch a crucial victory.
With one minute of normal time remaining, Scottish midfielder Stephen Hughes raced down the right flank and steered a side-footed cross towards Chris Martin, who got away from his marker and glanced the ball into the bottom corner from six yards.
The 1-0 win sparked wild celebrations among those wearing yellow and green, as City moved 11 points clear at the top of the table. They secured the league title less than a month after this victory, while Leeds were also promoted automatically, despite suffering another three defeats before the season’s end.
10 years on, what lies ahead for these two clubs remains unknown. With the current campaign approaching its conclusion, Leeds looked likely to finally return to the Premier League, while Norwich appeared to be struggling to stay in it. However, the suspension of the regular season due to the increased health risks of COVID-19 has thrown these possibilities into doubt, as football takes a backseat in an unprecedented situation.