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Second half comeback in vain as Leeds go out on penalties
Wednesday, 28th Aug 2019 13:56 by Tim Whelan

We didn’t see that coming after Saturday’s comprehensive win over Stoke City, but last night a much-changed line-up saw Leeds go out of the Carabou Cup after a penalty shoot-out.

The reduced ticket prices and a general air of optimism around the club had brought many new fans down to Elland Road, with the tie attracting an amazing attendance of over 30,000. A clue that many were non-members was that thousands had booked in the few days, so at one point the queue for collections on the night stretched all the way down the West Stand car park.

There were quite a few families there, though I was surprised to see quite a few near my seat at the back of the Kop, which isn’t a part of the stadium I would choose if I was bringing young children. There was also a decent turnout from Stoke, despite their poor form and the difficulty many would have had in getting here after a bad accident on the M6.

The much-changed and young looking nature of the crowd was reflected out on the pitch, with Bielsa making 8 changes to the line-up, which also involved Phillips dropping back to play in central defence, while Berardi got the opportunity to play in his usual position of right back. And with Butland apparently now being Stoke’s number two goalkeeper, he was of course realled for a League Cup tie.

Leeds took a while to get going and find any cohesion, which might have been due to the number of changes, though I would have thought that a lot of this side would have played together for the under 23s. But after an early scare when our former loanee Sam Vokes headed straight at Casilla, we seemed to be establishing a bit of control around the middle of the first half.

First a long range shot from Douglas went narrowly over the bar, then we all thought Leeds had scored when an excellent move involving Clarke and Shackleton set up Eddie for a fierce shot, but it came crashing back off the post. We also forced a couple of corners, but as we approached half-time our makeshift defence gave way twice as Stoke took a surprise two goal lead.

In the 39th minute a and corner came over Batth outjumped our defence, and although Casilla got both hands to the ball, he couldn’t prevent the powerful header from crossing the line. This is the problem with having Phillips in central defence, he just isn’t big enough to challenge the taller opposition players in the air.

And it got worse just before the break, when Phillips couldn’t stop Campbell getting round him and getting to the byline, and from the cross Vokes nipped in front of Shackleton to sweep the ball home. Bielsa reacted to our first half performance by making all three substitutions at half time, which I’m not in favour of doing with so much of the game still to play, having seen a few occasions over the years when teams have done that and ended up short of numbers after suffering injuries.

Luckily that didn’t happen this time. The players removed were Shackelton, McAlmont and Clarke, all of whom had been ineffectual. Of the three, you have to be most concerned about Clarke, is he still struggling physically after that virus he had at the start of the year, or is his head not in the right place after being sold to Spurs and loaned back?

The more experienced trio of Forshaw, White and Harrison came on, with White moving into central defence so that Phillips could go further forward into his usual midfield role. And that seemed to do the trick as Leeds stepped up a gear in the second half. Of the other young players, Davis was having a solid game at left back, while Bogusz was working hard and seemed keen to shoot at every opportunity.

And one such effort nearly paid off just after the hour mark, when the young Pole forced Butland into an excellent save. But a few minutes later our former loan keeper made an absolute howler, when his kick out bounced off the back of a defender and fell kindly for Niketia. Eddie coolly nutmegged Butland and ran through to roll the ball into the empty net.

That seemed to be the turning point as the pressure from Leeds began to mount as we looked for the equaliser, though the tension seemed to be getting to the Leeds bench, as Bielsa and one other member of the coaching staff ended up with yellow cards. Back on the field Harrison went close with a long range effort, and Eddie just failed to get the touch he needed from a flick to the far post.

But the equaliser finally came with nine minutes to play. An excellent cross from Davis just eluded Eddie at the near post, but it bounced up invitingly for Costa who was racing in unmarked at the far post and he took the opportunity to head it over the line to level the scores. At that stage we looked likely to go on and win, but there was a reminder that Stoke were still in the game when we had to scramble a close range header from Vokes away from danger.

In the last few minutes Phillips sent a header narrowly wide, and there was a riduclous decision when the referee gave a goal kick, despite a defender clearly getting a vital touch to prevent Harrison running in to have a free header at the far post. And so to penalties, as the rules of the competition now mean we don’t have extra time.

It was a bit strange to see some of the crowd filing out at this point, so either they thought it was all over and we still had replays, or they thought they would have time to get to the loo and back before the spot kicks commenced. We probably won the toss, as they would take place in front of the Kop, but Stoke would have the first go.

Our first four kicks were well taken, with Douglas Costa Phillips and Nketiah all finding the corner of the net. Casilla got close to a couple of their kicks but not quite close enough, so Stoke were 5-4 up when Harrison stepped up. And unfortunately he sent his a little too wide and against the post, so we were out.

The crowd stayed behind to chant Harrison’s name to give him a bit of a consolation, and the consensus of many on the Radio Leeds phone-in and the messageboards was that it doesn’t matter now that we can concentrate on the League for the rest of 2019.

That is true, but I can’t help being a bit worried by the way the makeshift side we started with looked a bit lightweight, as our small squad means that some of these players might be called on when it really matters.

Reuters Media Express

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