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Leeds United   v   Sheffield Wednesday
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 18th March 2017 Kick-off 15:00
Brighton overcome by Wood double
Sunday, 19th Mar 2017 21:47 by Tim Whelan

The game was a bit of a slow burner, but in the end Leeds produced a great performance to overcome Brighton and Hove Albion.

There were a couple of changes to the starting line-up. The one that was expected saw Taylor come back for the suspended Ayling, with Beradi moving across to his more usual role of right back. But no one expected Jansson to be dropped to the bench with Cooper taking his place. We’ve not heard of Jansson having any fitness problems, only rumours of some sort of disagreement behind the scenes, so we might not have heard the last of this.

The opening stages of the game were very cagey, as the two sides content to sound each other out and showing a reluctance to commit themselves. I started to wonder if both sides were thinking that a draw would be a good result in a weekend when three of the other top six sides had already dropped points.

But after the midway point of the first half Leeds started to put Brighton under a bit of pressure, with Hernandez getting back to his old self, and exerting more influence than he had in the last few games. Our best chance fell to Wood, but he failed to react in time as the ball came through to him right in front of goal, and he ended up poking the ball.

At the other end Cooper provided further ammunition for his detractors, when he sliced an attempted clearance towards his own goal, and forced Green to make a fine save from his own man. But apart from that error he had a pretty solid game, which is just as well if he’s going to be deputising for Jansson on a regular basis.

And Leeds were having more of the game as half-time approached, and there was a shout for a penalty as Wood went down in the box. I thought it would have been harsh if it had been given, as contact seemed fairly slight, though some may disagree.

Early in the second half another good chance fell to Wood, and this time he could only poke a tame effort goalwards, which Stockdale gathered quite easily. But this was more forgivable than Wood’s miss in the first half and the ball came through very close to his feet, so he never had the opportunity to swing a leg and produce a more powerful shot.

And it was third time lucky for the New Zealander when he finally put Leeds in front in the 63rd minute. Brighton were caught in possession just outside their own penalty area, and the ball found it’s way out to Charlie Taylor on the left. As the cross came in Wood found a yard of space and was able to direct an excellent header inside the near post as Stockdale was moving the other way across his line, finding the one spot where the keeper couldn’t reach it.

But Brighton responded well to this setback and produced some decent chances of their own. Knockaert wasted one opportunity by shooting from a narrow angle instead of crossing to Murphy, and Murphy sent the next effort narrowly wide. And Murphy had the visitors’ best chance of the game when he turned into space on the edge of the box, and we could be thankful that his powerful shot was straight at Rob Green.

Garry Monk felt the need to get some fresh legs on the field, and the first change saw Doukara come on for Pedraza, who again had failed to make the same impact that he does when coming on as a substitute. And with Brighton’s March becoming a threat down their left since his introduction, Monk countered by replacing Sacko with Dallas, to give ourselves a bit more cover down that side.

But just as it looked like we might have to hang on for the last few minutes, we were gifted a penalty in the 85th minute. Doukara was tripped by an ill-advised late tackle from Timori as he ran into the box at speed, and the miscreant was the only one of the Brighton defenders who bothered to make a protest about the decision. The rest accepted that it was pretty clear-cut.

Wood stepped up and smashed the spot kick straight down the middle as Stockdale dived to his right, though the keeper would probably have saved it if he’d had the courage to stand perfectly still. That pretty much killed off Brighton’s revival and made the win secure, and we managed to see out the remaining time with no further alarms.

And our play-off place is looking just as secure, with Wednesday fading fast and the gap over seventh placed Fulham stretching to eight points. This win just about keeps our hopes of automatic promotion alive, though the gap looking up to Brighton is also eight points, and they have a much better goal difference. Still, we can always dream.

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