Match Report: Leeds United 1-0 Brentford - Workmanlike Whites deservedly end barren run
Saturday, 24th Feb 2018 21:37 by @LucasMonk_
Paul Heckingbottom has guided Leeds United to victory for the first time since succeeding Thomas Christiansen at Elland Road…
Owing to an industrious, workmanlike and thoroughly professional performance, Leeds United defeated Brentford at Elland Road on Saturday afternoon to narrow the gap between themselves and sixth-placed Bristol City to just five points.
The decisive goal arose in the 31st minute, when Ezgjan Alioski’s sumptuous set-piece delivery from the left channel was met by the head of defender Liam Cooper, who scored his first goal of the season with a magnificent glancing header to hand his team their first three points since Boxing Day.
When selecting his squad for this fixture, United head coach Paul Heckingbottom had to be regardful of several noteworthy absentees. Pablo Hernandez was unavailable due to an injury sustained away to Derby County on Wednesday night, whilst metronomic passer Adam Forshaw missed this clash against his former side with his wife expecting a child. Bailey Peacock-Farrell was named amongst the substitutes in place of Andy Lonergan, who, like Hernandez, was absent with injury.
Heckingbottom thus employed a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Samuel Saiz, Vurnon Anita, Kalvin Phillips, Ezgjan Alioski and Eunan O’Kane all recalled to the starting lineup. As had been the case on Wednesday night, Pierre-Michel Lasogga again assumed Leeds’ striking responsibilities whilst Cooper partnered Pontus Jansson in central defence.
During the game’s youth, it was Leeds, acutely anxious to bring to an end a run of 10 matches without victory, who made a sprightly start to the match and much of the early running. After earning a succession of corners through the endeavour of Kalvin Phillips and Stuart Dallas, Eunan O’Kane registered the game’s first attempt on target in the fifth minute, driving a low shot toward goal that was comfortably held by Brentford custodian Dan Bentley.
Shortly thereafter, the visitors responded with a flurry of shots. After wild, and therefore innocuous, efforts by fleet-footed winger Ollie Watkins and South Africa midfielder Kamohelo Mokotjo, central defender John Egan elicited an attentive save from United goalkeeper Felix Wiedwald, who tipped the ball over his crossbar and behind for a corner, with a venomous volley from 25 yards following a free-kick on 12 minutes.
The busy Bees refused to relent, and Florian Jozefzoon should perchance have done better when presented with a good opportunity to open the scoring just moments later. Jozefzoon, a fast, alacritous Dutch winger who has previously played for PSV Eindhoven, was released in on goal by a searching, lofted pass from Romaine Sawyers - but Leeds’ Vurnon Anita applied enough defensive pressure to prompt him spurning the chance.
Expectedly, Brentford were controlling possession, limiting United to their own half with their patient passing and probing. But, for all their dominance of the ball, the Bees created scant few openings and were punished for their lack of incision in the final third in the 31st minute when United, arguably against the run of play, established a slender lead.
After an impetuous challenge on Dallas, Ezgjan Alioski’s splendid set-piece delivery from the left channel was met by the head of Liam Cooper, whose glancing effort eluded the desperate clutches of Bentley before nestling into the bottom corner.
Three minutes passed before Leeds, scenting another goal, ventured forth into the Brentford half once more. On this occasion it was Samuel Saiz, who had so masterfully created his team’s second goal against Derby County on Wednesday night as a substitute, who led several opposing defenders a merry dance before seeing a driven effort blocked by Ryan Woods.
And the exertion of attacking pressure from the hosts, who were most certainly galvanised by Cooper’s first goal of the season, continued. Shortly afterwards, Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who had scored in his last three matches prior to this fixture, tested Bentley with a low, left-footed effort from inside the area after more enterprising play by Saiz.
Leeds now appeared comfortable, with meaningful forays into their half by their opponents seldom occurring. There was one last scare before the half-time interlude though, when Watkins appeared poised to convert a threatening Jozefzoon cross - only for United’s Gaetano Berardi to avert the danger with a crucial defensive intervention.
The opening exchanges of the second half were hardly abundant with action; it was dour, dull and insipid stuff, with neither side appearing overtly interested in providing even the most insignificant slither of quality to excite the more than 28,000 spectators in attendance.
In fact, it was not until the 63rd minute that United’s Lasogga attempted to do just that. After latching onto a through ball by Saiz, the German lifted thousands from their seats as he expertly jinked past Egan and Bentley before seeing his ultimately tame shot cleared off the line by Woods.
Lasogga’s final involvement in the match before being substituted for Caleb Ekuban was to be played in on goal by Saiz - only for referee Oliver Langford to make the asinine decision to not allow Leeds the advantage, instead choosing to bring play back and book Egan for impeding the Spaniard.
As they had done for much of the match since taking the lead, the hosts continued to defend stoutly in numbers when out of possession, keeping the unusually impotent Bees at arm’s length. The visitors’ last opportunity to salvage a point arose in the 89th minute, when substitute Alan Judge stung the palms of Wiedwald with a fiercely struck free-kick, before Emiliano Marcondes, another Brentford substitute, lashed the ball high and wide on the rebound.
The punitive four minutes of added time - the fourth official chose to make a decision as impressively mean-spirited as supporters being charged £44 for a match ticket on the day - were negotiated well by the hosts, as they held on to deservedly record the first victory of the Paul Heckingbottom era at Elland Road.
Leeds United (4-2-3-1): Wiedwald; Berardi, Jansson, Cooper, Anita; Phillips, O’Kane; Dallas (Sacko 83’), Saiz (Vieira 90+3’), Alioski; Lasogga (Ekuban 74’).
Unused Subs: Peacock-Farrell, Pennington, Denton, Cibicki.
Brentford (4-2-3-1): Bentley, Dalsgaard, Egan, Bjelland, Barbet; Woods, Sawyers (Judge 69’), Jozefzoon, Mokotjo (Marcondes 69’), Watkins (Canos 59’); Maupay.
Unused Subs: Daniels, Clarke, Mepham, McEachran.
Referee: Oliver Langford (West Midlands).
Booked: Anita, Alioski (Leeds), Egan, Barbet, Woods, Sawyers (Brentford).
Man of the Match: Liam Cooper (Leeds).
Writer’s Verdict: Even if they were unremarkable, United reaped reward for competent and professional display
Before the match, this typically curmudgeonly scribe stated clearly that it was time for Leeds United’s players to stand up and be counted - and today they did just that.
Brentford may have enjoyed a hegemony of possession but, on viewing this game, one likely would not have guessed that they had scored five goals in their previous outing against Birmingham City on Tuesday. The most strenuous act Felix Wiedwald had to perform was an attentive diving save to keep out John Egan’s powerful volley in the first half; that aside, Dean Smith’s team manufactured zilch in the way of strong efforts on target and can have no complaints about the outcome of this match.
This should go down as a competent and professional, even if eminently unremarkable, triumph for Leeds, who played dutifully and coherently when out of possession, not allowing their opponents to surgically carve them asunder with careful and considered passing as they had done at Griffin Park in November.
Every United player gave his all for the cause today. Wiedwald did all he was asked to do; Gaetano Berardi, Pontus Jansson and Vurnon Anita steadfastly performed their defensive duties; Eunan O’Kane misplaced several passes, but proved an effective partner for Kalvin Phillips in central midfield on this occasion owing to his diligence off the ball; Ezgjan Alioski and Stuart Dallas attacked well when the opportunity for them to do so arose in addition to contributing defensively, too; and Samuel Saiz and Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who continues to disprove the notion that he is no more than a slovenly fatso who belongs on a recreational field playing Sunday League football, caused the opposing defence numerous problems and on other day may have troubled the scoresheet.
But the standout performer today was the oft-maligned Liam Cooper, whose steady and sturdy display typified that of his team. For my money, the central defender produced his finest showing of the season so far, completing 100% of his tackles and making eight clearances in addition to netting the decisive goal with a wonderful glancing header. Having endured a slipshod spell of late, Cooper in particular needed to prove himself to Paul Heckingbottom with a good performance in this game and that he did, assuming the mantle of match-winner to the surprise of his many austere critics.
A truly terrific triumph for Leeds, who merited the three points for their professionalism if not their flair. To have finally brought to an end that barren run of 10 matches without victory will doubtless be an appreciable boost to their confidence ahead of next Friday’s televised match against Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium. Win there, and who knows what could betide? But for now, supporters can savour the fact that the Heckingbottom era has seen its first win.
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Photo: Action Images
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