2-0 in your cup final!
Saturday, 7th Dec 2019 22:39 by Tim Whelan
The first half was a battle as Huddersfield Town raised their game against us once again, but two moments of quality in the second were enough to take Leeds back to the top of the table.
Both teams had injury and suspension problems coming into this local derby. Huddersfield just about put an experienced starting eleven together, but would only have a very young bench to fall back on if anything else went wrong for them.
And we were short of Phillips thanks to a one match ban, and also had Cooper out injured. With Bielsa making a contentious decision to move White forward into the midfield, we were left with an entire back four of players who weren’t operating in their most usual positions. And it showed for much of the first half, with White never looking composed in the unfamiliar role of defensive midfield player, so our back line was left a little more exposed than it really ought to have been.
With Leeds having such a talented group of youngsters coming through, couldn’t we give a few of them a chance at times like this, rather than shuffling the more experienced players around? Then at least we could field a team with everyone playing in the position they actually want to be in.
Huddersfield made a spirited start to the game, as they always do against us, showing none of the apathy of their performance against Bristol City that had so angered their manager. Casilla had to be alert a couple of times to make good saves from Mounie, as the lack of height at the heart of our defence was becoming a problem at set pieces.
In the midst of all that Kilch hit the post with a fierce shot when Hernandez played a corner into his path, though it’s possible that Grabara would have got across to it had it been on target. And you could have said it was against the run of play if it had gone in. A later opportunity saw Bamford heading wide from a good break, but it was the home side who produced the final chance of the first half.
Casilla was caught well out of his goal when the ball fell to Grant about 25 yards from goal, but Ayling had raced back and thankfully was able to get his head to the shot to divert it out for a corner. Grant would have been better going for a chip rather than blasting it, but perhaps didn’t trust himself to get the required accuracy from that distance.
The interval gave Bielsa the opportunity to reorganise his side, and with Huddersfield more or less playing two up front as they sensed a result, he reverted to the three at the back formation he prefers on such occasions. And with White dropping back into a more accustomed position, we began to look more solid as a result.
And it took only five minutes for Leeds to take the lead, with a corner routine we must have been working on. Again it was pulled back to a player on the edge of the box, but this time it was Alioski. He produced a superb finish, not only keeping his volley down, but producing the power he needed to give Grabara no chance.
The goal seemed to deflate Huddersfield a little, and we began to dominate possession and create a string of chances. Hernandez went past a couple of defenders as he cut inside from the touchline, but couldn’t quite curl his shot sufficiently and it went just past the far post. And Bamford sent a header just wide, before he found the net with an effort that really should have stood.
Dallas was flagged offside before he crossed for Bamford to head into an empty net, and though he looked off a the time, the TV replay showed he was at least a yard behind the defender when the ball was chipped through, so it wasn’t even close. With VAR the goal would have stood, and next season we hope to be in a division where they use it.
VAR might also have had a look at an off the ball tussle between Schindler and Bamford inside the box, as the game began to get a bit feisty. But Klich was the first of five players to receive a yellow card after a couple of sly fouls, and despite his rough treatment of Bamford, Schindler didn’t make the referee’s list.
But it wasn’t all Leeds, as Casilla was forced into an excellent save from Kachunga, thrusting out a hand when he had been going the other way. It began to look like we needed a second goal to put the game to bed, and with Bamford running out of puff after all his hard work, he was replaced by Nketiah on 77 minutes. So Eddie returned to action after his delicate injury problem, and perhaps Bielsa thought his pace would trouble a tiring Huddersfield defence.
And a minute later he was involved in the build-up to the second goal, though that ended with a superb cross from the left by Harrison, which found Hernandez beyond the far post, the little Spaniard being just one of the Leeds players who had raced into the box to support the attack. And we might have thought that was that, but Huddersfield kept battling and produced some decent chances in the remaining 12 minutes.
Casilla has been told to stop rushing out so much this season, but for once he stood rooted to the spot and just waited for the ball to arrive, when we actually would have wanted to come out and deal with it. Grant took the opportunity to nip in front of him and try his luck with a header, but thankfully he could only send it wide of the post.
As time ran out Huddersfield brought a couple of youngsters off the bench, and Matt Daly did well to adjust himself to get a shot in, after a colleague unexpectedly missed the ball, and didn’t miss the target by a great deal. So Bielsa decided to shore things up and sent debutant Casey on for Klich, followed by Douglas as the final substitute in place of Costa.
And with a few more proper defenders in place, we were able to see the rest of the game out, as large sections of the home stands emptied out well before the final whistle. How disappointing to see them give up so soon after getting so exited in the run-up to the game.
And so we went back to the top of the table until tomorrow afternoon at least, but as far as I’m concerned we won’t be properly be top unless WBA drop points in their game in hand, to leave us still at the summit when we’ve played the same number of games.
Some fans on social media have complained this wasn’t a vintage performance, which is a bit fussy when the three points are what matters, and we deserved the win for the way we played in the second half. We were a couple of players down against a battling side, and we can expect Huddersfield to pull away from the bottom of the table now the Cowleys are in charge.
In the 1980s a Huddersfield fan told me we wouldn’t get promoted back to the top division until we’d beaten them away from home. In the end we didn’t have to in that decade, as the Dog Botherers had gone down by the time of our successful campaign in 1989/90. But it could be that today’s result will be an omen, and are finally on our way back to the Premier League.
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