Match Report: Leeds 2-1 Barnsley - Precocious Pearce powers Whites to welcome win
Sunday, 22nd Apr 2018 11:03 by @LucasMonk_
Fledgling full-back Tom Pearce produced a stellar performance and scored his first professional goal as Leeds United claimed just their third victory of the year with a 2-1 triumph over struggling Barnsley on Saturday afternoon…
On a glorious spring afternoon at Elland Road, the sun most certainly beamed down upon United’s Tom Pearce as the fledgling left-back played an integral role in both of his side’s goals in this Yorkshire derby.
After intercepting a careless pass on 17 minutes, Pearce broke the deadlock in consummate style with a driven effort from outside the penalty area - his first goal in professional football - that left visiting goalkeeper Adam Davies with no chance.
But parity was restored 19 minutes thereafter when, after slipshod defending allowed Zeki Fryers the freedom of Leeds to cross from the left, Paudie O’Connor put through his own net.
United, though, would go on to score a decisive goal in the second half, with Kemar Roofe seizing upon an excellent pass from Pearce before bursting into the penalty area and squaring the ball for Ezgjan Alioski to tap home from close range.
After a spate of disappointing results, it was incumbent upon Paul Heckingbottom’s charges to seize the initiative in this match against his erstwhile employers.
And they did just that, making a sprightly start to the game. An attentive Ezgjan Alioski caught Matt Mills napping in possession before surging toward goal and prodding the ball narrowly wide in only the fourth minute of the match.
But Leeds would soon lead.
Under copious pressure from Ronaldo Vieira, Barnsley’s Brad Potts relinquished possession in midfield to Tom Pearce, who was making just his third senior appearance for the club, on 17 minutes. Sublimely, superbly, the callow defender burst alacritously past three Barnsley defenders before taking one touch and then another before driving a low effort along the ground and into the bottom corner from around 25 yards out.
Cue unencumbered joy for Pearce, who celebrated his first ever professional goal with abandon, racing over to the corner flag and punching the air with a delighted fist. A moment to savour, to remember, to cherish - and a ray of shimmering light in a year of forgettable mediocrity.
United appeared eminently comfortable, and it was not until the 23rd minute that the visitors elicited a meaningful save from Bailey Peacock-Farrell. Adam Hammill ‘s sumptuous cross eluded his teammates, but Peacock-Farrell was still required save well.
To the palpable exasperation of the home crowd, parity was restored against the run of play just 13 minutes later. Inexcusably complacent defending allowed Zeki Fryers to cross from the left channel, and Paudie O’Connor inadvertently turned the ball into his own net to send the travelling supporters into delirious celebrations.
Leeds were perchance a tad fortunate to go in at the break level, with Peacock-Farrell making a stupendous save to divert a left-footed Connor Mahoney effort behind for a corner after the latter made his way into the box unopposed. So meek was the defending that Peacock-Farrell felt it necessary to tell Samuel Saiz, in no uncertain terms, exactly what he thought of it.
Barnsley were soon made to rue that missed opportunity - because United regained the advantage merely five minutes into the second half.
Pearce played a splitting, splendiferous pass up the left channel that was seized upon by Kemar Roofe, who led Matt Mills a merry dance before surging into the area and selflessly squaring for Alioski, who swept home from close range to score his seventh goal of the campaign.
Controversy arose just four minutes thereafter, when the visitors momentarily celebrated what appeared to be an equalising goal - but Oli McBurnie was adjudged to be offside when he turned in a low cross.
Barnsley boss Jose Morais responded by electing to switch to a 4-4-2 formation, with substitute Kieffer Moore becoming a focal point of attack.
And it would not be long before the towering striker, who stands at a prodigious 6 ft 5, found himself at the epicentre of the action in the 76th minute, inexplicably failing to convert a low cross from just six yards out after excellent work by Hammill on the right.
This prompted Morais to throw on Ryan Hedges and change his side's formation once more, to a 3-4-3, in search of a precious equaliser - but to no avail.
There were Barnsley protestations for a penalty when Hammill went down in the United area under pressure from Matthew Pennington, but referee Stephen Martin booked the former for simulation in spite of those half-hearted pleas.
Leeds then had a chance to make their victory certain in the first minute of three added on for stoppages and although Pablo Hernandez spurned it, shooting high and wide after receiving possession from United substitute Adam Forshaw, his team were able to negotiate the game’s remainder well to secure just their third victory of 2018.
The youthful triumvirate of Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Paudie O’Connor and, most especially, Tom Pearce once more put the languid likes of Samuel Saiz (who petulantly kicked over innocent water bottles upon being withdrawn for Adam Forshaw), Pontus Jansson (who was insouciant and far from his lovably abrasive self) and Pablo Hernandez (who performed poorly and made no discernible impact upon the outcome of the match) to shame.
Kemar Roofe’s second half display warrants praise - many strikers would not have selflessly assisted Ezgjan Alioski as he did for the winning goal - as does the performance of Ezgjan Alioski, who again played tirelessly and persistently.
But the fulcrum of this triumph was Pearce. The callow left-back produced a stellar performance, scoring a sumptuous opening goal, sending a marvellous lofted pass into Roofe’s path in the buildup to the second and playing with a clear self-assurance throughout the match. He was beaten on one occasion when Barnsley’s Adam Hammill impudently prodded the ball through his legs and crossed for Kieffer Moore - who thankfully missed - but was United’s best performer by an appreciable distance.
Paul Heckingbottom should really garner more praise for having placed his trust in the likes of Pearce - Peacock-Farrell and O’Connor have also excelled under his watchful gaze - and he will doubtless be delighted at having put one over his former club to secure a much needed victory.
The win, a first since Good Friday, lifts Leeds to 12th in the Championship table ahead of their final away fixture of the season against Norwich City at Carrow Road next week. How they fare in East Anglia will not matter in the greater context of the season but the match presents to the youngsters a chance to demonstrate again that the future is at least a little bright, as does the season finale at home to QPR the following Sunday.
Leeds United (4-2-3-1): Peacock-Farrell; Pennington, Jansson, O’Connor, Pearce; Phillips, Vieira; Alioski (Ekuban 71’), Saiz (Forshaw 84’), Hernandez; Roofe.
Unused Subs: Lonergan, Cooper, Anita, Sacko, Lasogga.
Barnsley (4-1-4-1): Davies; Yiadom Mills (Hedges 81’), Lindsay, Fryers; Gardner; Hammill, Mahoney (Moore 62’), Potts, McBurnie; Bradshaw (Moncur 73’).
Unused Subs: Walton, Cavare, McCarthy, Pinnock.
Match Statistics (Leeds / Barnsley)
Shots: 15 / 11
On target: 3 / 3
Possession: 55% / 45%
Corners: 5 / 9
Fouls: 8 / 10
Referee: Stephen Martin.
Booked: Vieira (Leeds), Hammill (Barnsley).
Man of the Match: Tom Pearce (Leeds).
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Photo: Action Images
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