Match Preview: Leeds United v Brentford - Whites to be stung by Bees again?
Saturday, 24th Feb 2018 10:46 by @LucasMonk_
Leeds United host play-off aspirants Brentford today - with Paul Heckingbottom still pursuing his first victory since succeeding Thomas Christiansen as head coach at Elland Road…
On Wednesday evening, Leeds United came excruciatingly close to winning a fixture for the first time under Paul Heckingbottom’s tutelage. The Whites did battle with Derby County, who themselves required a victory to remain in firm contention for automatic promotion, at Pride Park, with both teams playing their part in the production of a compelling spectacle of a match. Leeds had to contend with much attacking pressure in the first period but were level at the juncture of the half-time interlude, after Pierre-Michel Lasogga’s 10th goal of the campaign - a downward header following a brisk breakaway - was cancelled out by Andi Weimann, who capitalised upon Liam Cooper’s mistake to level for the Rams.
United, who welcomed back Samuel Saiz from suspension, again took the lead in the 79th minute - and the diminutive Spaniard was directly involved in the goal’s creation. Exuding his typical panache and elan, Saiz surged upfield with the ball, evading two defensive challenges before expertly releasing substitute Ezgjan Alioski, who scored his first goal since November at the second time of asking with a diving header.
But Leeds somehow contrived to allow Derby an emetic equaliser. In the second minute of added time, Kasey Palmer, a former Huddersfield midfielder, pounced to salvage a point for the Rams by lashing home following United’s failure to clear a corner.
That result means that, with 13 matches remaining, Leeds enter this afternoon’s fixture against Brentford having still not secured a first victory since a 2-1 away defeat of Burton Albion on Boxing Day. For several weeks now, United have been the architects of their own demise. The fulcrum of defeats of Leeds by their divisional rivals is typically not stellar football on the part of their foes but, rather, utterly egregious football on theirs.
Conversely, Brentford’s Bees are on the rise, buzzing around the pitch with gusto and having no qualms about delivering a painful sting or two to unwitting opponents. Birmingham City will doubtless not have anticipated that a chastening 5-0 defeat would be the story of their visit to Griffin Park on Tuesday - but it was.
Brentford supporters savoured the moment, the three points made ever so slightly more delectable by the departures of Jota, Maxime Colin and Harlee Dean to the Blues in the summer. The result encapsulated the admirable manner in which Dean Smith’s team have approached the season; in spite of losing salient first-team stars, Brentford, as they have done ever since their promotion to the division in 2014, play with a captivating fluency and finesse and their potent poise has rightfully garnered new admirers.
While Leeds’ play-off ambitions are being tortuously doused due to their inability to win matches, Brentford’s are alive and kicking. The Bees trail sixth-placed Bristol City by a mere four points and victory at Elland Road could also see them gain crucial ground on local rivals Fulham.
Will Heckingbottom finally claim his first victory as Leeds United head coach? Or will Brentford compound the misery for his woebegone Whites by winning confidently and comfortably as they did when the sides met at Griffin Park in November?
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Paul Heckingbottom has no fresh injury concerns ahead of his second home match in charge of the Whites. Defender Luke Ayling will not play until next season owing to his undergoing surgery for an ankle injury sustained last month, whilst Conor Shaughnessy and Tyler Roberts are also sidelined with ankle and shin injuries respectively.
Moreover, winger Stuart Dallas is likely to retain his starting berth after a superlative performance against Derby County on Wednesday night.
Finally, Kalvin Phillips could replace Ronaldo Vieira as Adam Forshaw’s partner in central midfield after the latter produced a slipshod display in midweek, whilst Pierre-Michel Lasogga will likely be at United’s vanguard once more in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Brentford boss Dean Smith is likely to name an unchanged starting lineup after his charges vanquished Birmingham City 5-0 in midweek - but left-back Rico Henry will be unavailable for selection as he continues to struggle with injury.
Furthermore, Smith, a former manager of Walsall, is also expected to retain his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, as his Bees seek to achieve their first double over the Whites since the 2014/15 season.
Finally, Frenchman Neal Maupay should again spearhead the visitors’ attack, with Florian Jozefzoon, Romaine Sawyers and Ollie Watkins operating behind him.
United, 11th in the table, enter this match in barren form having last won a match on Boxing Day, when they worsted Burton Albion at the Pirelli Stadium. Meanwhile, opponents Brentford, occupants of 10th, arrive in West Yorkshire having been competent, if unremarkable, of late - save for their comprehensive triumph over Birmingham City in midweek.
Leeds United: DLLDD
Kick-Off and Coverage
As ever, live match commentary on the part of BBC Radio Leeds will be available - their build-up to the match commences at 14:00 (GMT).
Referee: Oliver Langford (West Midlands), who has officiated in 31 matches this season and shown 94 yellow cards in addition to four reds.
Assistants: James Wilson and Steven Meredith.
Fourth Official: Stephen Martin.
Key Battle: Kalvin Phillips v Ryan Woods
This match will see the unapologetically abrasive Kalvin Phillips pitted against the rather more refined Ryan Woods in the middle of the park.
Both midfielders are integral components of their respective sides.
Phillips has made 32 appearances and scored five goals for Leeds this season, averaging a WhoScored statistical rating of 6.89.
Meanwhile, Woods has made thirty appearances for Brentford this season, scoring one goal and maintaining a statistical rating of 6.76.
The outcome of this battle with prove crucial in determining that of the game at large. Phillips’ vocation for hard tackling will be key in preventing Woods, an equanimous presence on the ball, from dictating the tempo of the match as he did in November, when Leeds fell to a 3-1 defeat at Griffin Park.
Writer's Verdict: Afternoon of great anguish could await United
For several weeks now, the majority of the Leeds United players have been nothing other than inveterate incompetents and it is a profound shame to witness the club’s famous, sparkling white being represented so disgracefully.
They may have been the recipients of some recent praise after their improved second half performances in recent matches against Sheffield United, Bristol City and Derby County - yet none of those fixtures yielded that elusive victory that they so desperately require.
Leeds’ prospects of securing a play-off berth are now, at best, meagre; those of opponents Brentford are not, which is why this scribe approaches this afternoon’s meeting between the two with some trepidation.
Presently, Paul Heckingbottom’s team are the division’s peerless doyens when it comes to being guilty of porous defending and infuriating inconsistency. As each week passes, this Leeds team, one so ruefully supine in contrast to the dogged outfit we extolled last season, slide down the table.
Brentford, though, continue to rise.
Unlike supporters of the Whites, followers of the Bees have a team of which they can be justly proud. Their team pass the ball elegantly, confidently and creatively; they score a plenteous number of goals; they entertain their supporters, who get real value for their hard-earned money.
None of this can be said of United, who see fit to charge exorbitant ticket prices - a travelling, Brentford supporting adult will have to pay £44 for a ticket on the gate in order to see today’s Championship clash at Elland Road - for what can only be described as insipid dross.
When Victor Orta, who Andrea Radrizzani clearly regards as some esteemed, oracular demigod that he must never sack, deigns to rid the Leeds squad of all its unwanted, second-hand detritus - selling Eunan O’Kane would be a sterling start - then perhaps it would be in order for the club to charge a fair whack for admission. But this has not yet happened, and likely never will, which means that they hold decent, working-class supporters in utter contempt.
I think it a great shame that many Leeds and Brentford supporters have been so disgracefully deterred by the price of match tickets.
I surmise that Elland Road will be sparsely populated today - in contrast to the halcyon days of September when United led the division - but Leeds fans who vote with their feet will likely not miss a great deal. I can discern one winner here.
Leeds’ woeful showings in the first halves of their clashes with Sheffield United, Bristol City and Derby did not prove terminal - but if they defend in such a porous way as they did in those fixtures this could end up being the most facile victory Brentford will record all season.
If the perishing ember that is United’s play-off hopes is to be kept alive, Paul Heckingbottom’s players must step up and deliver for their supporters today. With Samuel Saiz, Liam Cooper and Gaetano Berardi back from their respective suspensions, defeat cannot be pre-empted by futile lamentation of Championship officials’ supposed alacrity to dish out red cards to Leeds players.
The time is now for Leeds to stand up and be counted. Will they? On recent performances, I suspect not. An afternoon of great anguish could await against the Bees, who will not hesitate to extinguish once and for all United’s fading hopes of a top six finish if presented with the chance to do so.
Prediction: Leeds United 1-2 Brentford
Brentford's youthful, dynamic and exuberant style is typified by players such as Ollie Watkins and Sergi Canos; if Leeds get off to a slow start here, expect them to be punished.
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