Match Report: Reading 2-2 Leeds United - Pontus and Pablo on target but defensive problems persist
Sunday, 11th Mar 2018 11:55 by @LucasMonk_
Leeds United’s excruciating wait for a first away victory since Boxing Day continues after a 2-2 draw at Reading's Madejski Stadium on Saturday - despite posing an immeasurably more potent attacking threat than they did in Wednesday’s 3-0 home drubbing at the hands of Wolverhampton Wanderers.
In spite of a considerably improved showing after consecutive 3-0 defeats to Middlesbrough and Wolves respectively, Leeds United are still seeking a first away victory of the Paul Heckingbottom era - and a first since Boxing Day - after labouring to a 2-2 draw away to relegation threatened Reading.
Icelandic international Jon Dadi Bodvarsson handed Reading a slender advantage in the 16th minute but United roared back, equalising through Pontus Jansson with half-time looming before taking the lead thanks to an exemplary curling effort from Pablo Hernandez.
But, as has been the case so frequently this season, Leeds were again made to rue their glaring defensive porosity, with Eunan O’Kane inadvertently turning in Leandro Bacuna’s cross to ensure that the game ended in a stalemate.
The hosts started in a surprisingly alacritous manner, having not won at the Madejski Stadium since November, with former Leeds loanee Modou Barrow, midfielder Liam Kelly and attacker Sone Aluko earning corners for the Royals in the early exchanges.
That succession of set-pieces bore no goalscoring fruits for Reading, though, and Leeds duly responded with two efforts from Ezgjan Alioski. The first of the Macedonian’s shots was a venomous effort narrowly off target. The second a low, driven attempt from inside the area on eight minutes, following strong forward play from Caleb Ekuban, that Royals ‘keeper Anssi Jaakkola attentively parried behind for a corner.
The visitors had responded well to the initial pressure they had been subjected to by their hosts, who desperately require more points if they are to avoid relegation, but in a fashion typical of them at this moment, they meekly fell behind after a collective lapse in concentration. A slick interchange of passes from Kelly, who had regained possession from Ekuban with a timely intervention, and Pelle Clement culminated in Aluko releasing the onrushing Jon Dadi Bodvarsson with a carefully threaded through ball and the imposing striker coolly finished past Bailey Peacock-Farrell to score his seventh league goal of the campaign on 16 minutes.
The way in which United conceded that goal served to exasperate. Reading’s move was one of almost surgical precision but not one Leeds defender deigned to track the run of Bodvarsson.
For Reading, that goal was most certainly a shot in the arm. Jaap Stam’s team could have even doubled their lead just minutes thereafter. Barrow crossed low from the left after being released by Chris Gunter only for a combination of Matthew Pennington and Peacock-Farrell to deny Bodvarsson a second of the afternoon, before Pennington recovered quickly to block George Evans’s effort on the rebound.
The chances continued to fall for the hosts. First, Barrow should have doubled his side’s advantage in the 32nd minute, after United’s Laurens De Bock failed to control a long ball. After stealing possession from the Belgian, the winger burst through on goal before shooting toward goal - only to see his low effort saved by the determined Peacock-Farrell, who turned the effort around the post. Second, a rasping drive from Evans appeared destined for the net after it took a deflection but a corner was all it yielded.
Stam’s Royals would soon be punished for their inability to convert those opportunities. Ekuban received possession in the box from Pablo Hernandez before seeing a shot blocked by Liam Moore, and from the ensuing corner United mustered an equalising goal. Reading failed to clear their lines, and Pontus Jansson prodded home in the 43rd minute after Adam Forshaw’s cutback to ensure the sides went in level at the half-time interlude.
Shortly after the break, Leeds took the lead. Samuel Saiz passed for Hernandez, who, from the left of the area, curled a sumptuous, masterly effort beyond the grasp of Jaakkola and into the top corner on 56 minutes.
United’s ephemeral lead lasted all of two minutes. Aluko fed Leandro Bacuna and, from the right, the Curaçao international’s cross was subsequently turned in by Eunan O’Kane. Bacuna was afforded too much space, and Leeds paid the price. There was little the excellent Peacock-Farrell could do to prevent the goal.
Leeds arguably had the better of the second half, enjoying more of the ball than they had in the first, but they did little in possession, scarcely threatening to regain the lead. Alioski’s curling effort from outside the box, one that was saved well by the sturdy Jaakkola, was perchance the closest Paul Heckingbottom’s side came to securing all three points (bar a Jaakkola clearance that struck substitute Pierre-Michel Lasogga and then the post), whilst Reading’s only effort on target of the half was a timid Bodvarsson header six minutes from time.
After Scott Duncan’s last blast of the whistle heralded the game’s end, the United players were warmly applauded by the 3,467 travelling fans who had vociferously supported them throughout the afternoon. The Leeds performance was an improved one, even if it was produced against an inferior opponent struggling to beat the drop, but once again the team were the architects of their own downfall, their porous defending costing them two points.
The draw was certainly a just outcome. In the first half, Reading were highly competitive and could have been out of sight had they converted the raft of chances that fell their way in the opening 45. Leeds responded well with Hernandez the undisputed fulcrum of their revival, but they ceded a poor equaliser just moments after the Spaniard handed them the lead in spectacular fashion and lacked incision in the final third despite enjoying a greater quantity of possession in the second period.
Hernandez was the man of the match, with his superlative performance and fifth league goal of the campaign prompting fresh calls for him to be given a new contract at Elland Road, but praise should also go to Peacock-Farrell, who once more belied his age with a strong performance in goal, Forshaw, who produced another cultured display in midfield and assisted Jansson for the Leeds equaliser, and Alioski, who was diligent in defence and alacritous in attack throughout the game.
The final result and the manner in which his team - who remain 13th in the Championship table after this stalemate - conceded Reading’s equaliser will have disappointed Paul Heckingbottom, but United’s improved showing can be built upon with a victory against local rivals Sheffield Wednesday in next week’s Yorkshire derby at Elland Road.
Notably, there was also the inclusion of 19-year-old Tom Pearce, a precocious left-sided player from the youth team, among the substitutes on Saturday. With the United defence having conceded eight goals in their last three matches, could he take to the field against Jos Luhukay's flightless Owls? One thinks that there would be little to lose in him doing so and, as Peacock-Farrell has already made plain, this is an opportune time for Leeds's fledglings to take off and break into the first team.
Reading (4-2-3-1): Jaakkola; Bacuna, Ilori, Moore, Gunter; Evans (Edwards 63’), Kelly; Aluko, Clement (Swift 63’), Barrow; Bodvarsson.
Unused Subs: Mannone, Holmes, Blackett, Smith, Loader.
Leeds United (4-2-3-1): Peacock-Farrell; Berardi, Jansson, Pennington, De Bock; Forshaw, O’Kane; Alioski, Saiz, Hernandez (Dallas 85’); Ekuban (Lasogga 77’).
Unused Subs: Wiedwald, Pearce, Anita, Phillips, Vieira.
Referee: Scott Duncan (Newcastle).
Booked: Kelly, Evans (Reading), Pennington (Leeds).
Man of the Match: Pablo Hernandez (Leeds).
Photo: Action Images
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