Leeds way too good for sorry Stoke at the Bet 365
Sunday, 25th Aug 2019 10:14 by Tim Whelan
It took a while to establish our superiority over a hapless Stoke City, but as the home side lost heart in the second half we were able to stroll to a comfortable victory.
Unusually for an English bank holiday the weather was perfect and I thought in these conditions a walk along the canal was the ideal way to get from the railway station to the ‘Bet 365’. And like a few Leeds fans I paused for refreshments at the ‘Boatcake’, beneath the bridge that leads to the stadium.
If I don’t take any notice of my recommendations in the ‘Awaydaze’ articles I can’t expect anyone else to. I’d also predicted a hefty number of empty seats in the home sections of the stadium, and I wasn’t wrong. But to be fair, the fans behind the opposite goal made a good effort to cheer their team on in these difficult times, at least at the start of the game.
The big screen tried to raise their morale by showing a series of goals from various painful Stoke victories over Leeds down the years, but Stoke have won only three league matches since Nathan Jones took over from Gary Rowett. Admittedly one of them was over us in the same fixture in January, but things would be very different this time.
Leeds had one enforced change, with Alioski coming in for Cooper, leaving Berardi playing in central defence while Dallas continued as a makeshift right back. Against stronger opposition that defence might have been a little bit vulnerable, but Stoke would have to get the ball down to our end to test it out.
In contrast, Nathan Jones made six changes to the Stoke line-up, having publicly criticised his senior players after their debacle at Preston. Perhaps the most high profile dropee was England goalkeeper Jack Butland after a couple of howlers in that game, and as his replacement Federici didn’t do a lot wrong, he might be out for some time.
Leeds dominated possession right from the start, though once again we took our time to make it count, and struggled to create any outstanding chances for much of the first half. Too often the final ball was a bit lacking as one or two promising moves broke down. The highlights on Quest suggest we absolutely battered them, but I don’t remember thinking that at the time during the first 40 minutes or so.
Our best early opportunity came when a shot from Forshaw was deflected into the path of Hernandez (who initially I thought was offside, but actually wasn’t). The little Spaniard’s fierce shot was saved by Federici and a defender got in the way when the rebound fell invitingly for Klich at close range.
We then started to rely on shots from outside the box. Dallas scuffed a shot wide of the far post and then Bamford put the ball in practically the same spot when he tried his luck on the turn. At the other end Stoke actually managed to approach our penalty area on a couple of occasions but without causing us any serious alarm.
And just when I was thinking it was all a bit dull and we’d go in level at the break, we took the lead int the 42nd minute. A good passing move down the left involving Forshaw and Klich, before Hernandez played an excellent through ball to Dallas. The Ulsterman outpaced a defender and made no mistake as he fired his shot past Federici into the net.
And once we’d got in front we didn’t let up after the break, and extended the lead only five minutes into the second half. Another excellent passing move ended with Klich threading the ball through to Bamford, and when he sent it across the face of goal Alioski got in front of a defender to steer the ball into the net.
Following that we produced yet another well-worked move, which ended with Harrison sending a curling shot just wide. There were more long range efforts from Klich and Hernandez, before we killed Stoke off completely with the third goal on 66 minutes. Hernandez sent an excellent ball through to Alioski, who was left with no option but to try a shot himself from a narrow angle once Bamford’s run inside had been checked by a collision with a defender.
But it was too hot for Federici to handle, and it came out nicely for Bamford, who by then had recovered to race into the area. It bounced a bit high, but Bamford had reacted faster than the defender, and was able to direct in into the far corner. That was the signal for hundreds of Stoke fans to begin heading for the exits, even from the parts of the stadium normally populated by their most die-hard fans.
As Nathan Jones’ replacements had let him down he tried to go back to plan A by sending a couple of his senior players on as subs, but by then it was too little, too late. This included Tom Ince, who was of course reminded that “you’re dad’s a **** and so are you” because of his family connections.
Ince was to produce a shot that led to a comfortable save from Casilla, but at least it was a shot, which led to ironic cheers. From their own fans, not from ours, as the commentator incorrectly said on Quest. I couldn’t help being reminded of our own ironic cheers for having a shot on the night of that awful 3-0 home defeat by Sunderland in our last relegation season.
At about this time the officials had a bit of a moan about the amount of time we were taking over getting water to our players, but in these hot conditions we had to be careful to keep our players hydrated, especially as our pressing style involves a lot of running around.
With the points in the bag Bielsa sent Eddie Nketiah on for Bamford, though the latter might have taken a slight knock. Eddie ran around very enthusiastically, but was a little fortunate to avoid a booking after launching into a couple of challenges. Costa and Shackleton also got a run-out in the closing stages.
As we moved towards the end we started to toy with Stoke as we passed the ball around, with ‘Ole’s from the Leeds section reminiscent of Southampton and 1972. But unlike that on occasion, it finished with a serious effort on goal, as Costa hadn’t had much chance to impress and he wasn’t going to waste it. It’s a great shame that Federici got his fingertips to Costa’s excellent curling shot as it would have been some goal.
As we continued to look for a fourth, a deflected shot from Klich was crawling towards the corner of net, but Federici must have seen it late, as he took his time to get down and turn it round the post. Then Nketia’s cross put Forshaw clear, but Federici did well to close him down and smother the shot, before a defender blocked Shackleton’s shot from the rebound and the ball bounced wide.
Three minutes of injury time were played, before the referee finally put Stoke out of their misery with the final whistle. After such a comfortable away victory it would be churlish of me to moan that after our second half dominance we should have won by more goals to boost our goal difference, so I won’t.
A splendid away trip was rounded off by an amusing shouting match between the Leeds fans on different platforms on Stoke station, followed by seeing the sad faces of the Man U fans at Manchester Piccadilly as they headed back to London after their home defeat by Palace.
Leeds, Leeds are top of the league again, provided Swansea don’t beat Birmingham by at least four goals this afternoon. Can we keep it going for a full season this time? It’s a good sign that we comfortably won one of the fixtures we lost last time, and if only we can keep converting our dominance into goals we should be well on course.
Reuters Media Express
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