Match Report: Leeds United 2-2 Bristol City - first half throw-in farce sees Whites drop two points
Sunday, 18th Feb 2018 23:35 by @LucasMonk_
Leeds United mounted a brave fightback against Bristol City to draw 2-2 in new head coach Paul Heckingbottom’s first home match in charge - but his team remain winless since Boxing Day and eight points behind the sixth-placed Robins...
Leeds United’s aspirations of securing a play-off berth were dealt a further blow on Sunday as they were left to rue a farcical first half in which they conceded twice to direct divisional rivals Bristol City from throw-ins. Strikes from City’s Famara Diedhiou and Bobby Reid were eventually cancelled out by goals from Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Kemar Roofe in the second period, but United ultimately spurned an auspicious opportunity to gain ground on one of their play-off rivals.
Leeds’ second half showing away to Sheffield United last weekend was the mother of some optimism amongst supporters prior to Paul Heckingbottom’s first home match in charge. This was, to a degree, encapsulated by the effusive praise that greeted Heckingbottom’s selection of a strong lineup, one deployed in the 4-4-2 formation he favoured during his time at Barnsley. Pablo Hernandez, who was arguably United’s most stellar performer at Bramall Lane, was named captain and assigned to the left flank, with Ezgjan Alioski and Kemar Roofe relegated to the bench; Caleb Ekuban partnered Lasogga in attack; and Vurnon Anita, who lifted the Championship title with Newcastle last season, was accorded a seldom start at right-back.
During the opening exchanges, it was Leeds, fervently egged on by a crowd anxious to see their side record a first win since Boxing Day, who made much of the match’s early running and their sprightly start saw Stuart Dallas sting the palms of City stopper Frank Fielding as early as the fifth minute. After receiving possession from Ekuban, the Northern Irishman lashed a venomous shot toward goal but Fielding reacted attentively to push the effort away.
In spite of their elan, United soon fell behind in the 11th minute. After Felix Wiedwald failed to punch Hordur Magnusson’s hefty throw-in clear, Leeds meekly allowed an unmarked Diedhiou to take two touches before slotting the ball into the bottom corner. The goal may have come against the run of play, but the hosts were deservedly punished for their lapse in concentration.
It got even worse five minutes thereafter. Again, the visitors craftily exploited Magnusson’s facility for sending looping throw-ins into the area. United did not clear Aden Flint’s initial header and after Marlon Pack drove the ball across goal, Bobby Reid gleefully gobbled up the opportunity to score his 15th goal of the season from close proximity.
Leeds then sought to muster a token response, with Lasogga firing well wide from distance a minute later.
But the first goal had seemingly knocked the stuffing out of the hosts, who looked forlorn, bereft of confidence and creativity. More and more chances began to fall the way of the visitors, who had been on the back foot until Diedhiou’s opener.
From yet another long throw-in, Flint would have a header saved by Wiedwald before heading wide from a corner minutes later, whilst Ryan Kent, a fleet-footed winger on loan from Liverpool, also saw a fairly central effort saved by the home goalkeeper.
Come the juncture of the half-time whistle, the booing of thousands of malcontents reverberated around Elland Road as Leeds solemnly left the field after an exceedingly poor half. Heckingbottom doubtless seized the opportunity to make plain to his players his disgust, but it was the visitors who continued to exert attacking pressure during the second period’s youth.
On 57 minutes, Leeds impetuously ceded possession in their own half and, after exchanging passes with Reid, Josh Brownhill crossed for Diedhiou, whose impactful downward header elicited a good save from Wiedwald. Diedhiou found himself presented with another chance from close range just seconds later after Reid’s cutback, but he saw his low effort blocked by United’s Laurens De Bock.
And then came two Leeds substitutions, with Heckingbottom replacing the ineffectual Dallas with the often profligate Hadi Sacko and the workmanlike Ekuban with the out of sorts Roofe.
And then came the noise. The home crowd began to vociferate. ‘We are the Champions, Champions of Europe,’ the approximately 27,500 United supporters roared.
Suddenly, Leeds whirred into life and just moments after the substitutions and the beginning of the noise, they halved the deficit. Hernandez sent a delectable cross over to the back post, and Lasogga converted the chance from close range to score his 15th goal of the season.
Eight minutes elapsed, before the hosts equalised. Hernandez, this time from a corner, produced another sumptuous delivery and substitute Roofe was able to steal the march on his marker before prodding home his 12th goal of the campaign at the far post.
The goal prompted ebullient celebrations amongst the Leeds coaching staff, players and supporters and there existed a palpable feeling that if either side were to net a decisive winning goal, it would be them.
With the visitors now clearly perturbed, United refused to relent. They would fashion several chances but absolute potency in front of goal eluded them.
First, Adam Forshaw seized upon a loose ball with just moments remaining, bursting into the penalty area before curling wide.
Second, substitute Kalvin Phillips could only head over after another magnificent set-piece delivery from Hernandez.
Third, in the game’s last act, Lasogga headed against the crossbar after soaring like an eagle to meet the ball following yet another splendiferous delivery on the part of Hernandez, who was, by some distance, the best player on the field.
The fortitude exuded by Leeds in the second half ensured that they were warmly applauded by the home crowd following the last blast of the referee’s whistle, but one cannot help but feel that gaining three points from this crucial clash was a necessity for Heckingbottom’s team, who remain eight points off the play-offs and without a victory since Boxing Day.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Wiedwald; Anita, Pennington, Jansson, De Bock; Dallas (Sacko 64’), Forshaw, O’Kane (Phillips 73’), Hernandez; Ekuban (Roofe 64’), Lasogga.
Unused Subs: Lonergan, Denton, Vieira, Alioski.
Bristol City (4-4-1-1): Fielding; Wright, Flint, Magnusson, Bryan; Brownhill (Paterson 79’), Pack, Smith, Kent; Reid; Diedhiou (Woodrow 80’).
Unused Subs: Steele, Kelly, Walsh, Eliasson, Diony.
Referee: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire).
Booked: Pennington, Phillips (Leeds), Wright, Brownhill, Pack (Bristol C).
Man of the Match: Pablo Hernandez (Leeds).
Writer’s Verdict: Whites fight back in game of two halves - but why do they never begin as they mean to go on?
One feels impelled to commend the efforts of the Leeds United players in the second half, but to do so whilst ignoring the calamity of the first is would be deeply inane.
If examined rationally, this match can only be viewed as a large disappointment. Leeds dropped two points. In front of their own supporters, they had the chance to narrow, even if only slightly, the gap between themselves and their opponents in the table - but it was a chance profligately wasted by their conceding of two soft and simple goals from throw-ins.
To roar back as they did in the second period requires steel, fortitude and gusto. So why was it, then, that Leeds were yet again bereft of those qualities in the first half? Why should a team have to meekly concede two ludicrous goals before beginning to play?
Much has been made of the noise generated by the home fans in the second half - and rightly so. Often I take the view that messrs Radrizzani, Kinnear and Orta - in addition to a large swathe of the current playing squad - do not deserve such dutifully loyal supporters, for they have all been shown to be utterly feckless.
(Radrizzani’s imposition of stultifying wage restrictions, Kinnear’s feigned, saccharine smiles and Orta’s many bemusing decisions in the transfer market have continually infuriated me. It would shock me greatly if I were to find that I am alone in feeling this way.)
The vociferous chanting of the supporters was certainly the catalyst for the comeback. Leeds slowly whirred into life, like a stuttering computer from the 1990s, but once they started to play they put their bewildered opponents to the sword and could have even won the match at the death if not for the aluminium.
But win it they did not. A point is all United have to show for their endeavour. The manner of their fightback merits praise, but imagine what the final score would have been if they decided to begin matches as they mean to go on? Leeds are all too often the architects of their own downfall. Bristol City did not finesse for themselves, through spectacular football, their 2-0 advantage - they had it supinely handed to them on an inviting silver platter.
I left Elland Road disaffected. The only crumb of comfort for me, and I had to look extremely strenuously for it, is that the excellence of Pablo Hernandez (my player of the match), Adam Forshaw and Pierre-Michel Lasogga reinforced further the notion that there exists a decent base on which a formidable squad could be built.
The only problem, of course, is that the responsibility for building upon that base rests with the club's two-bob Italian impresario, Radrizzani, and its idiosyncratic, injudicious and remarkably annoying director of football, Victor ‘Vamos’ Orta...
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