Match Report: Leeds United 2-1 Bolton - Pablo's panache and Caleb's cracker send Trotters packing
Saturday, 31st Mar 2018 10:42 by @LucasMonk_
Caleb Ekuban scored his first league goal in English football as Leeds United recorded a rare, and richly deserved, victory over Bolton Wanderers on Good Friday…
Caleb Ekuban scored a maiden Championship goal as Leeds United made a winning return to domestic action by defeating Bolton Wanderers at Elland Road yesterday afternoon - in front of the club’s highest attendance of the season.
More than 35,000 supporters were in attendance for this Good Friday clash, and those of them who took full advantage of a promotional offer allowing a friend to accompany them to this match for free were not left disappointed as Leeds produced a highly competent performance to secure a merited 2-1 victory - but they could and should have scored more.
Amidst the febrile atmosphere, United made a sprightly start. Caleb Ekuban and Ezgjan Alioski exuded great diligence by exerting pressure upon the Bolton defence, culminating in Alioski arching a fierce effort over the bar from inside the area following Ekuban’s blocking of a Ben Alnwick clearance in the second minute.
Leeds raced into an early lead just moments later. In the fourth minute, Stuart Dallas, who was functioning as a right-back in this match, found Pierre-Michel Lasogga on the right flank with a cultured pass, before the German embarked upon an enterprising run and crossed the ball into the area; his ball was headed back by Pablo Hernandez toward Ekuban, who gleefully drilled a low shot past Alnwick and into the bottom corner from close proximity. One not in possession of the Italian-Ghanaian’s performance data may still have been able to deduce that that goal was his first in the Championship, with the forward racing over to the West Stand, his exultation clearly displayed, and being mobbed by his teammates.
The visitors responded by retaining possession well and earning a succession of corners, but to no avail.
Indeed, United continued to fashion the better opportunities.
First, Hernandez finessed for the hosts and excellent chance in the 36th minute with a sumptuous first-time through ball for Alioski but the Macedonian could not maintain his composure, firing wide of the mark to the audible disenchantment of the home crowd.
Leeds then came excruciatingly close to a pivotal second goal a minute later, when a splendid set-piece delivery from Hernandez found the unmarked Lasogga, who did not make sufficient contact with the ball to trouble Alnwick in the Bolton net.
Wanderers could count themselves highly fortunate to leave the field at the half-time interlude trailing their hosts by a solitary goal. On the threshold of half-time, United defender Pontus Jansson rattled the aluminium of the crossbar with a booming header before Bolton hurriedly cleared the ball upfield.
The second period began in the same frenetic vein as the first with Leeds evidently esurient for another goal, which they scored after a raft of near misses. Hernandez was denied by an attentive Alnwick save after seeking to convert a deft Alioski cutback; Lasogga leathered a wild effort into the Kop from just yards out following a corner; and Alioski would see a fierce effort parried by Alnwick after exhibiting great speed and skill by chesting down Ronaldo Vieira’s searching, lofted pass before driving infield and leading Andrew Taylor, his marker, a merry dance.
Despite Wanderers’ resistance, the second goal soon arose. After Alnwick parried the aforementioned attempt by Alioski, Hernandez pertinaciously pursued the loose ball, valiantly beating two Bolton defenders to it before prodding home from a mere yard out to make it 2-0 on 50 minutes.
To their credit, Phil Parkinson’s team did not cede defeat, and they halved the deficit only three minutes later. An impetuous foul on the right presented Sammy Ameobi with the chance to send over a wicked cross, and Adam Le Fondre, a perennial thorn in United’s side, powered an excellent header past Bailey Peacock-Farrell and into the top corner. Cue delirious celebration from the visiting supporters, who promptly set a flare off and danced around jubilantly like a grouping of inebriated knuckle-draggers on New Year’s Eve.
Game on. Wanderers continued in their application of attacking pressure, with Ameobi evading the defensive endeavours of Vieira before firing a fierce right-footed shot just wide of the left-hand post, before Will Buckley, an erstwhile Leeds loanee, generously refused to convert a gilt-edged chance with his head after being found unmarked in the box by Jon Flanagan’s cross.
The visitors were almost made to rue their spurning of those chances in the 68th minute, when Ekuban was presented with an opportunity to restore his side’s two-goal cushion - but the forward did not, firing a timid effort straight at Alnwick.
Leeds were subjected to copious pressure for the game’s remainder, although Wanderers were unable to perforate their opponent’s rearguard again. Instead, United fashioned the most conspicuous opening of the match with just minutes remaining. Ekuban was presented with a glorious chance, with only Alnwick to gull, but he could only shoot straight at the goalkeeper again, much to the palpable exasperation of the Elland Road faithful.
The last blast of the referee’s whistle soon came, and United supporters rose to their feet to celebrate a seldom seen victory - but the margin of victory could and should have been greater.
Whilst the three points are a welcome prize for Paul Heckingbottom, Bolton made plain as to why they are embroiled in a dogfight against relegation. Prior to this match, the Trotters had netted a mere 36 goals all season and the way in which United meekly allowed them back into the game is perchance cause for concern ahead of a trip to rampant Fulham in midweek.
Moreover, Leeds should have put their feeble opposition to the sword after Le Fondre’s customary goal against them. Their profligacy made the closing stages of the match immeasurably more uncomfortable than they otherwise would have been. Caleb Ekuban was most certainly one of the better performers today, playing with vigour, holding up the ball effectively and displaying an alacrity to get on the ball, but he should have left the field with the match ball in his hands.
Other noteworthy performers included Ronaldo Vieira, who was back to his best, tackling efficiently and proving an imperious presence in the air against a Bolton side known to be direct. Ezgjan Alioski has been improving in recent weeks and played competently once again, with his boundless energy a valuable asset to this Leeds team.
The man of the match, though, was Pablo Hernandez, who assisted the first and scored the second in a manner rather atypical of him. He had a hand in United’s goals not through the sort of mouthwatering panache that he displays on a regular basis but through sheer tenacity inside the penalty area, his role more becoming of a rugged, abrasive, throwback centre-forward than a diminutive playmaker. That is not to say finesse was absent from his display, for his sumptuous pass for Alioski in the first period would have been one of the assists of the season had the Macedonian converted the ensuing chance.
Overall, this is a welcome win, one that should deter vituperative criticism of Heckingbottom and his players for a matter of days, and an ideal start to the Easter period. Three points, and a competent performance. The more than 30,000 Leeds fans in attendance for this rare victory, United’s second since Boxing Day and one that elevates them to 12th in the table, went home happy.
One can only hope that more afternoons such as this are to follow; afternoons on which the fans refreshingly lament not the absence of United goals but the fact that there were not as many of them as they would have liked.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Peacock-Farrell; Dallas, Jansson, Pennington, Berardi; Alioski (Grot 83’) Vieira, O’Kane, Hernandez; Ekuban, Lasogga (Saiz 62’)
Unused Subs: Lonergan, Pearce, Anita, Phillips, Cibicki.
Bolton Wanderers (4-2-3-1): Alnwick; Flanagan, Burke, Beevers, Taylor (Clough 89’); Derik, Kirchhoff (Wilbraham 73’); Ameobi, Vela, Buckley (Morais 66’); Le Fondre.
Unused Subs: Howard, Wheater, Little, Karacan.
Match Statistics (Leeds/Bolton)
Shots: 16 / 9
On target: 6 / 3
Possession: 44% / 56%
Corners: 9 / 5
Fouls: 13 / 10
Referee: Geoff Eltringham (County Durham).
Booked: Dallas, Jansson (Leeds), Derik, Wilbraham (Bolton).
Man of the Match: Pablo Hernandez (Leeds).
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Photo: Action Images
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