|West Bromwich Albion 1 v 1 Leeds United|
Wednesday, 1st January 2020 Kick-off 17:15
Leeds bring a point back from the Hawthorns
Thursday, 2nd Jan 2020 20:13 by Tim Whelan
A draw was probably a fair result in a game where we had more possession but West Bromwich Albion created the better chances.
Marcello Bielsa stuck with the same starting eleven for this vital match, which meant that Eddie kept his place up front for what will probably be his final appearance for the club, even though Bamford was fit enough to join the substitutes.
He would have hoped our new-found defensive frailities were behind us after we had leaked 10 goals in the previous 4 games, but with games coming thick and fast over the festive period, there would have been little time to put things right on the training ground. And it showed, as we conceded a goal inside two minutes.
Casilla was put under pressure from an Albion free kick and had to punch, but didn’t manage to get any distance on it. Then we were twice beaten in the air as the ball pinged around the six yard box, and Ajayi was able to nip in front of While to send the ball goalwards. Harrison appeared to have made a superb acrobatic stop on the line, but technology ruled otherwise, as the ball had actually crossed the line.
But having taken the lead, Albion appeared to be content to sit back and concede a lot of the possession. Was that because they thought they could sit on a 1-0 scoreline for 88 minutes, or was it just that our pressing style was effective whenever we got the ball? We could at least take heart from the fact that WBA have yet to keep a clean sheet at home this season, an amazing stat for a team in the top two.
But for all our neat moves going forward, we had the familiar problem of being unable to convert them into clear-cut chances. Eddie was working hard, but struggling to make an impact. The problem was that playing as a lone striker doesn’t suit him, he’s the kind of nimble striker who really needs to be playing alongside a bigger centre forward.
As it was, the Albion had the better opportunities in the remainder of the first half. Phillips shot into the side netting and Casilla was forced into a couple of good saves by the lively Pereira, the second being an exceptional tip round the post from a free kick. But I’d have been aggrieved if the latter had gone in, as it came after Pereira had gone down after minimal contact from Phillips.
For his pains Kiko was booed every time he got the ball, as his alleged piece of racism at Charlton involved a player that WBA have sent on loan. This is despite the fact that we are still waiting for the verdict, so obviously the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ has yet to reach the West Midlands. They were so worked up they forgot to boo Costa for being a current Wolves player.
At least our noble custodian didn’t let the crowd get to him, and he was alert enough to deny Matt Phillips when the latter was put through on goal just before the break. So we reach half time only one behind, and Bielsa sent Bamford and Douglas on for Eddie and Alioski, the second of these changes being more surprising than the first.
And it took only seven minutes for these changes to work, as Leeds grabbed the equaliser. An excellent cross from Harrison found Bamford, and his header might have been heading wide, but it deflected off Ajayi into the net. Our official site have credited the goal to Bamford, but the Sky commentators were rather more keen to put it down as an own goal.
From that point on Leeds looked the more likely winners, and Bamford shot just wide from another Harrison cross. But our best chance to take all three points came close to the end, when Bamford was put through but elected to shoot from a narrow angle when he really should have squared it for Klich. As it was Johnstone was able to make the save.
But right at the death Albion came close to snatching the win, but Casilla was on hand to make yet another fine save, tipping a shot from Kyle Edwards over the bar. There were three minutes of stoppage time, which had to be extended further when Casilla needed treatment after a goalmouth scramble, but that wasn’t long enough for either side to force a winner, and it ended in a stalemate.
In truth, a lot of this game had been rather cagey, and I rather got the impression that both sides were happy with the draw, to remain nine points clear of the pack and avoid losing ground to their rivals at the top. And the way that Bielsa and Billic embraced at the end they looked like a mutual appreciation society, very content with their night’s work.
As long as we get one of the automatic promotion places at the end of the season we don’t care who gets the other one, or really in which order we finish. And with none of the teams around the play-off positions showing much consistency, maybe Bielsa and Billic can start dreaming of meeting each other again next season in the Premier League.
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