|Brentford 2 v 0 Leeds United|
Monday, 22nd April 2019 Kick-off 17:15
Leeds go down at Brentford as automatic promotion slips away
Monday, 22nd Apr 2019 22:36 by Tim Whelan
We urgently needed to recover from Friday’s defeat, but all we got was yet another frustrating defeat, this time at the hands of Brentford.
Once again we were playing after Sheffield United’s game had finished, thanks to Sky TV, and their impressive win at Hull was only going to ramp up the pressure on Bielsa’s boys. For this crucial game he opted to select Forshaw in place of Phillips, which might have given us a bit more going forward but was likely to deny the back four a bit of protection.
We knew that this was going to be one of the hardest fixtures of the run-in, given Brentford’s record at home. But we managed to have much the better of the opening stages, with the players well aware that we needed a reaction after Friday’s abysmal result at home to Wigan. If only we’d been able to make our dominance count.
The first chance fell to Bamford when he was played in by Ayling at the end of a good move, but he could only put it wide of the post. Then Roberts was put through on goal by an excellent pass from Cooper, but took a heavy touch which allowed Daniels to race off his line and smother the danger. We didn’t know it then, but these were the best two chances we would create in the entire game.
After only 12 minutes we had to make our first change, as Alioski jarred his knee after slipping and trying to break his fall. Quite a few players seemed to have trouble staying on their feet throughout the game, which might have been down to the pitch being watered just before kick-off, on a previously dry surface.
And shortly afterwards we were denied what looked like a certain penalty when Bamford cut inside Jeanvier and had his standing leg taken, but although referee Keith Stroud had an excellent view he declined to award us a spot kick. That said, would we have scored the penalty anyway? Bamford and Hernandez have missed the last two we’ve been awarded, so who would have stepped up to take this one.
As the half wore on Brentford began to get into the game, and it’s been a regular theme of our defeats this season that the opposition has grown in confidence after we’ve failed to score during a good spell at the start of the game. See also the defeats since Christmas at Birmingham and QPR, amongst other games.
Forshaw had a shot deflected wide, but at the other end Jansson needed to block a shot from Maupay. Cooper needed to perform a similar task after Canos beat three defenders in a run down their left and played the ball to Henry, then Canos cut in from the opposite flank and curled a shot to the far corner, producing a fine save from Casilla.
And the home side finally took the lead just before half time. A long ball down the middle saw Maupay racing into the gap between our central defenders, and he seized the opportunity to shoot past Casilla from the edge of the box. That was his 27th goal of the season, and if we’d had a prolific striker like him we’d already have promotion done and dusted.
There was still time for Roberts to have another chance before the break when he was again played through against Daniels, but this was harder than his first opportunity because of the angle, and he could only drag a feeble shot across the face of goal. Already it was starting to look like just another one of those days for Leeds.
And as the second half wore on you could almost see the confidence draining out of Leeds. Bamford never looked like winning the ball from the many crosses we produced, and we started to rely on shots from distance, most of which went well wide of the target. For corners, Bielsa’s pre-match analysis had identified the need to send it to the far post where they would put their smallest defenders, but you still need to deliver the ball to the right place and most of them were overhit.
Roofe was our second substitute, in place of Roberts, but didn’t manage to do much of note. And in the 62nd minute Brentford dealt a potentially fatal blow to our automatic promotion hopes with their second goal. There didn’t seem to be much danger as Canos made his way into the box surrounded by four Leeds players, but somehow the Spaniard managed to squeeze a shot past Casilla into the net.
Bielsa’s final throw of the dice was once again to introduce Jack Clarke, but Jansson seemed an odd choice of player for him to replace, if only because of the Swede’s potential threat at set pieces when we urgently needed a goal. And we certainly managed to force plenty of those as time ticked away. Clarke again was largely ineffective, and he hasn’t looked the same player since he came back from his illness.
With our defence suitably weakened there was always the danger that Brentford would inflict further humiliation, and we can be thankful that from one move Maupay tried a clever bit of juggling instead of getting a simple shot away, and sent it over the bar. Then Watkins tried another dive in the box, but this time the ref made the right call and Watkins was booked for his dishonesty, unlike the controversial penalty he was awarded at Elland Road earlier in the season.
Nothing less than a win was going to do for us in this game, and although we did manage to come back from 2 down to win 3-2 at Villa in December, it never looked likely to happen in this game. Our best effort in the closing stages was a fierce shot from Klich, but that was placed a bit too close to Daniels to cause him too much trouble.
Eventually the final whistle put us out of our misery, and this defeat effectively brings our automatic promotion hopes to an end. Before we play next Sheffield United will have had a home game against relegated Ipswich, and it will be a surprise if they don’t get a win which will put them six points above us with a superior goal difference.
The Leeds players looked shattered at the end, and I only hope we can pick up a bit of confidence before we have to face a couple of in-form sides in the play-offs.
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