|Rotherham United 1 v 2 Leeds United|
Saturday, 26th January 2019 Kick-off 15:00
Half-Time dressing room atmosphere sparked Leeds comeback
Sunday, 27th Jan 2019 19:08 by Tim Whelan
It was the proverbial game of two halves at the New York yesterday, as Leeds came from behind to beat Rotherham United.
And according to our talisman Pontus Jansson, it was our team spirit wot won it. The Swede missed the game through suspension after his unlucky dismissal at Stoke last week, but was evidently still with the players as he took to Twitter to say “The atmosphere we had in our dressing room in halftime today is everything you need to change a result. Bravo guys and now we prepare for Saturday!”
Leeds certainly needed to turn things round after a flat first-half performance, and Marcello Bielsa took the full 15 minutes to reorganise his side. Unusually, the team didn’t emerge from the tunnel until the last moment, instead of coming out for a short warm-up before the restart.
One change he made was to replace Jack Clarke, who didn’t have his best game since he burst onto the scene, and to a large extent was muscled out of the game by Rotherham’s rather burly defenders. It’s something he will have to get used to now the surprise element has gone, and the opposition have learned that they need to keep him quiet. Tyler Roberts came on to good effect, and perhaps Clarke will now go back to being an ‘impact substitute’ in the games to come.
The Millers led at the break through Semi Ajayi, who was given plenty of space to run through midfield and hammer a 30 yard shot into the top corner, which gave our new keeper no chance. Rotherham boss Paul Warne joked that our spies couldn’t have spotted that because Ajayi has never done that before. “There’s no way Biesla would have prepared for that because I haven’t even seen it in training.”
However, our head coach has claimed that he wasn’t concerned, as we had it all under control, and just needed to step up our game. He told the Yorkshire Post “The game made us think that we could score another goal. I don’t think Rotherham dominated the first half. We had the ball but we didn’t create any danger. In the second half, this changed. We attacked better and we had chances to score. It was a necessary win.”
And whatever was said in the dressing room certainly worked, as Leeds controlled the game in the second half, as Rotherham tired and invited pressure by falling back on defence. The equaliser was a little bit scruffy, with the ball bouncing kindly for Klich after he failed to fully control a ball into the box, but he reacted well to poke the ball home despite close attention from a defender and the goalkeeper.
Rotherham still had their moments and Vaulks tried another long-range shot, but this time Casilla was able to stretch across and palm the ball away. But Leeds had most of the possession, and could have gone in front when Alioski was played in on the edge of the penalty area. But he turned and shot first time when he would have had time to take a touch to steady himself, and the shot went agonisingly wide of the post.
However, Leeds would not be denied and the winner finally arrived four minutes from time. Harrison found Klich inside the box, and the Pole’s neat footwork took him past a couple of defenders, before he curled a shot into the corner of the net. It was a welcome return to scoring form for Klich, who had been so anonymous in the first half he could well have joined Clarke in being ‘hooked’. In fact at first Adam Pope at Radio Leeds thought he had been the player replaced!
And Klich admitted we needed a big improvement when he spoke to LUTV after the game. “After the first half it didn’t look great, but we were calm, tried to do our things on the pitch and the second half was dominant for us and we earned the win. We were angry at ourselves as we didn’t want to play like we did in the first half, we lost the goal and it was dangerous, but the most important thing is that we won the game.”
The match reminded me of a game at Oxford in 1989/90, the last season when we were promoted from this level. That also came when we’d hit a run of poor form coming into the game, and our fans were in despair as we went 2-0 down, thinking we were on the way to blowing promotion. But we recovered to win 4-2 and get ourselves back on track, and though it wasn’t all plain sailing from then on, we can look back on that comeback as one that got us back on track when we seemed to have gone off the rails.
When we look back on the current campaign yesterday might be seen as a season-defining win, not least because it leaves us in a stronger position than ever, after Norwich and Sheffield United drew with each other. They say that the best teams are the ones who grind out results when they haven’t played well, and although the games to come will be against stronger teams, if we can maintain the fighting spirit we showed against Rotherham then we should be OK.
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