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Stoke City 2 v 1 Leeds United
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 19th January 2019 Kick-off 15:00
Leeds go down to a resurgent Stoke, with a little help from the ref
Sunday, 20th Jan 2019 10:50 by Tim Whelan

Stoke City’s new manager masterminded a win over Leeds in his first home game in the league, aided and abetted by the contentious dismissal of Pontus Jansson.

I’m sure we’ve all had away trips like this, when you start the day in a contented mood, only for it all to be spoilt by a game of football. My feelings of optimism owed much to my pre-match spying on a Stoke messageboard, where all the posters were as gloomy as the Potteries weather, saying their defenders were far too slow and would be ripped to shreds by our pacy midfield and attack.

This theme continued in the ‘Oatcake’ fanzine I bought outside the stadium. It seems that Rowett’s style of football was dire, he wasn’t getting the results, and had fallen out with the fans with ill-judged comments about a couple of players. But things had yet to improve under Nathan Jones, with a defeat at Brentford and at home to Shrewsbury in the cup, albeit with eight changes for the latter game.

He made a few more changes for this game, though this time to greater effect. Marcello Bielsa opted to stick with the same line-up who began the game against Derby, which meant that new signing Casilla would have to be content with a place on the bench for the time being.

The game was pretty close to a sell-out, and I could see one or two empty seats dotted around the home stands, but not many. For once the Leeds contingent would find it a little bit difficult to make ourselves heard due to a boisterous home crowd, but we did manage to be awarded ‘chant of the day’ by the EFL highlights show on the Quest channel, with “we’re Leeds United, we spy when we want”.

We produced a very good early chance, with Hernandez bursting through the middle unchallenged, but he sent his shot just wide from outside the area. But we wouldn’t get that much space in their half after that, with their defence working quickly to close us down. Is it just me, or do we seem to struggle a little against teams who try to out-Bielsa us, using our own pressing tactics against us?

On six minutes there was applause all around the stadium for young Toby Nye, who sadly passed away at that young age, and thanks to the Stoke fans for joining in this tribute. Unfortunately we didn’t remember to have another round of applause in the 49th minute for Phil Masinga.

As well as being resolute in defence, Stoke began to look dangerous on the break themselves. One such led to our first booking, a sly trip from Forshaw on the halfway line as they raced into a dangerous position. A couple of Stoke players thought this might have prevented a clear goal-scoring opportunity, so they got in the referee’s ear to suggest a card of a different colour.

Our next yellow card was Jansson’s first for a late tackle outside the box, and at least the ref got that one right. Etebo sent the resulting free kick was over the bar and on target, until Peacock-Farrell reacted well to push it over the bar. Our under-fire keeper also was also to make good saves from Joe Allen and Afobe, as the home side continued to produce the better chances.

At the other end we created a few opportunities of our own, and a neat passing move ended with Hernandez scuffing the ball wide from a good position. And just before the break Jansson just failed to connect with a Hernandez free kick at the far post, when any sort of contact may well have put us in front.

But Stoke probably shaded the first half, and they were to go in front four minutes after the break with a goal that was a complete mess from a defensive point of view. As we came under pressure, Peacock-Farrell punched a ball out that he could have caught, handing possession back to Stoke. Although the next ball across goal went right out to Bauer near the corner flag, he was sent cross it back into the box despite the presence of two defenders.

Cooper tried to cut it out but found the ball was a bit too high for him, and he could only knock it further across goal with the top of his head. Then Klich couldn’t make a proper connection either as he tried to head clear, and the ball fell nicely into the path of Clucas, though admittedly he produced an excellent finish to hammer it across Peacock-Farrell and into the far corner.

We worked hard to get back on level terms, but to little effect. The match stats show that Stoke had only 29% of the possession, but a lot of our passing was going round in a big semi-circle outside the area and back again, constantly probing for the opportunity to play the killer pass that never came. They seemed to be quick to get two men onto Jack Clarke whenever he had the ball, so perhaps his surprise element has gone, and a lot of his crosses were hurried and over-hit.

On 61 minutes Tyler Roberts was introduced for the ineffectual Harrison, and he showed that his game is better suited to a wide role rather than playing as a lone striker. For their part Stoke sent on James McClean, and there was a half-hearted chant from the Leeds section about his Irish Republican sympathies, though as a Rowett signing he’s derided by the Stoke fans as much as anyone else’s.

Match Gallery: 10 photos

I was beginning to hope that Stoke would tire in the latter stages, as their fitness might be up to the high-tempo game they were playing, bearing in mind they had lost 3-2 to Shrewsbury in midweek after being two goals up. That was until the referee decided to give Stoke a big helping hand, by reducing us to ten men with a very harsh second yellow card for Pontus Jansson.

McCLean sent Afobe down the wing, and Jansson seemed to slip and inadvertently make a slight contact with Afobe as he fell. Afobe was left to continue towards goal but was denied by Peacock-Farrell bravely diving at his feet, before turning to claim that he’d been impeded. Unfortunately the referee decided this ‘coming together’ was worthy of a second booking for Jansson, probably the first time I’ve ever seen a player punished when he was the one who had fallen over.

Young Jordan Stevens came on to make his debut in place of Klich and we continued to press on, despite our disadvantage, as Stoke retreated into their own box to preserve their one goal lead. And still we tried to pass our way through them, but frustratingly a few promising moves broke down as a final pass went astray.

The one time we came very close to an equaliser was from a from a corner as Ayling climbed above the Stoke defence to send a powerful header towards goal, only for Butland to produce an excellent save. And then we were all but killed off by a second Stoke goal in the 88th minute.

McClean got past Jack Clarke to send the ball across the face of goal, and while Peacock-Farrell wandered along his line instead of cutting the ball out, Allen got in front of Forshaw at the far post to score from close range. Four minutes of injury time were announced, and this was extended as Stoke suffered an injury once the extra period had begun.

But it wasn’t until the 95th minute that we finally got on the scoresheet, when a corner came all the way through to Alioski , who took a step forward before picking his spot and drilling the ball into the far corner. We managed to grab the ball out of the net and race back to the halfway line, but there was barely time for Stoke to kick off before the referee blew the final whistle.

All in all a very frustrating defeat. It might be stretching a point to claim that we would have got something out of the game it hadn’t been for Jansson’s dismissal, but we’ll never know. I've seen one suggestion online that the referee had decided our points deduction should start right away. Paranoid? Us?

Perhaps it was the worst possible time to be playing Stoke, just when they started to play for their new manager and he’d had a little bit of time to get them organised and playing the way he wants. We’re still top of the league, as we reminded the Stoke fans on the way out, but this is now four defeats in five in all competitions, and other teams are now in contention at the top of the Championship.

Will the fallout from the ‘Spygate’ scandal start to take effect on the pitch? Have we seen the last of Peacock-Farrell in the Leeds goal, and if so, will Casilla have the desired effect as our last line of defence? One thing we do know is that it’s time to put a stop to our bad patch, so it’s now become very important to get a result at Rotherham next week.

Reuters Media Express

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