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Leeds go close to a vital win at Derby
Thursday, 22nd Feb 2018 00:17 by Tim Whelan

Derby County could have been out of sight by half time, but once again Leeds improved after the break, and only an injury time equaliser denied us the three points we needed to get back in the race for the play-offs.

Tonight saw the long-awaited return of several players from suspension, though Saiz could only make the bench, perhaps because he wasn’t fully match fit after six games out. But Cooper and Berardi were recalled to the starting line-up, and Roofe also started, but in an advanced midfield role rather than as a second striker.

And although we were back to something like full-strength, it was the home side who were to dominate possession during the first 45 minutes. We were caught in possession several times in our own half as Derby seemed quicker to get the tackles in, and De Bock in particular had an awful game, as more than once he failed to connect with balls into the box and left us badly exposed.

And behind the defence, Wiedwald again looked shaky and low in confidence, while failing to communicate with his colleagues. With all this going on and Derby putting our goal under increasing pressure, it was a wonder they didn’t convert some of the many chances they created during normal time in the first half.

Nugent sent a dangerous shot across the face of goal which Cooper needed to clear, then a Keogh flick on from a corner saw Vydra and Huddlestone both failing to get the touch they needed to turn the ball over the line. Then Nugent headed narrowly wide from close range, before our defence was caught out by a long ball through the middle but Wiemann could only send his lob over the bar.

The one chance we created in the early stages came when a deep cross from De Bock found Dallas in space, but he tried a clever first time volley and sent it well wide, when he would have had time to take a touch to bring the ball under control. We once saw Harry Kewell score a spectacular volley against Derby from a similar position, but Dallas isn’t quite in his class.

So it was a shock when we took the lead in the 34th minute, and to say the goal came against the run of play would be a massive understatement. A long crossfield pass saw Dallas get beyond the full-back, and this time the Ulsterman sent over a first-time cross, to find Lasogga completely unmarked with the simple task of heading the ball over the line.

A terrible goal to for Derby to concede, as if someone as slow as Lasogga can run past the central defenders like that, they really must have gone to sleep. But they were straight back at us, and were close to an equaliser when a ferocious shot from Lawrence came back off the bar, with Nugent offside as he tried to connect with the rebound.

And just as I was thinking that it would be nice for us to go in at half-time 1-0 up, we didn’t. As Huddlestone played a long ball into the box, De Bock needlessly got in Cooper’s way and put him off, with the result being that Cooper failed to make a proper contact with his header. The ball ran through to Vydra in the space where De Bock should have been, and he accepted the invitation to smash the ball past Wiedwald to bring Derby level.

Derby were again on the front foot after the break, and we were thankful that an instinctive header from Nugent went straight to Wiedwald. But the game started to change when Saiz came on after 53 minutes, and was soon reminding us what we’d been missing for six games. Roofe was the man replaced, and apparently this was due to a calf injury, but he’d been so anonymous I’d forgotten that he was playing.

With the little Spaniard’s influence in midfield Leeds began to pose more of a threat in the Derby half, but Cooper could only head over when a good chance fell to him at a corner. Shortly afterwards Phillips came on for Vieira, who had started to pull out of challenges in dangerous positions after he’d picked up a yellow card in the first half.

And the third change was enforced with 15 minutes remaining when Hernandez pulled up and had to be replaced by Alioski. They say that Alioski is only effective when Saiz is around to make him look good, and so it was to prove in the closing stages.

The Rams had another opportunity when Wiedwald failed to hold a fierce shot from Nugent, but our custodian managed to knee the ball to safety before any of their strikers could get to the rebound. And after another Derby opportunity 11 minutes from time, the ball was to end up in the back of their net thirty seconds later.

It began with their free kick ten yards outside our area, when Palmer sent it straight into the wall and Leeds were able to break away. Saiz got the better of a couple of feeble challenges as he raced downfield, before finding Alioski as the Macedonian raced clear. Alioski sent his shot too close to Carson as our former keeper rushed off his line, but the rebound fell kindly for Alioski to head the ball into the net.

For the first time in the game Leeds began to look comfortable, and rather than sitting on the lead we were going forward to try to kill the game off, and there seemed to be little danger with scores of home fans leaving as time ran out. By now Bradley Johnson had come on as a second ex-Leeds man in the Derby side, and he had three chances for one of his trademark left foot thunderbolts, but each time sent the ball a fair way wide.

I thought we were going to hold out as the game went into five minutes of injury time, but I reckoned without this defence’s capacity to give goals away out of nothing. This time it came from a corner we needlessly conceded, after Wiedwald failed to give Cooper the shout he needed to let the ball run.

When the corner came in there was a scramble for possession in a crowed area, before the ball fell kindly for Palmer to smash the ball beyond Wiedwald and snatch a point for Derby right at the death. A sickening blow, when it looked like we were going to claim the first win of Heckinbottom’s spell as Leeds United manager.

Earlier in the season I would have gladly taken a point from this difficult away fixture, and might even have accepted it as a good result had we beaten Bristol City on Sunday. A win could have put us back in contention for the play-offs, but with the gap now remaining at eight points it’s starting to look like we’ve got too much to do in the games remaining.

We may yet be able to make a good late run now all the suspensions are out of the way, and with the Heck putting his squad through extra training to improve their fitness. But the chances are that it will come too late, and yet again we are just going to have to start to plan for next season.

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