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Aston Villa 0 v 3 Leeds United
Barclays Premier League
Friday, 23rd October 2020 Kick-off 20:00
Brilliant Leeds storm to victory at Villa
Saturday, 24th Oct 2020 18:03 by Tim Whelan

An excellent second half and a Bamford hat trick saw normal service resumed with a stunning win over a previously in-form Aston Villa.

I said after the Wolves game at the start of the week that he’d had a reality check, and thought this might be a bit of struggle as we were fast running out of options in central defence. But whereas Wolves sat deep and made it hard to play through them, Villa have a more expansive style and allowed us to get back to traditional Bielsaball and exploit the space behind their defence.

Having paid my £14.95 I thought I be writing this for those who were boycotting BT because of the cost and/or donating to foodbanks. Fair enough if that’s your choice, I won’t gloat that you missed a great game, because it seems you didn’t. Social media tells me that many watched on dodgy streams or in the pub.

The pub option is denied to me because I’m now in a tier three area where they’re all shut, and even when they’re open their full of people who don’t like our great club. Such are the pleasures of life on the wrong side of the Pennines, where it always rains. Anyway, back to the game.

There was one enforced change to the starting eleven due to Philips’ injury, but quite a reshuffle of personnel around the back five. Alioski came in at left back, Dallas moved to the right, Ayling into central defence and Struijk forward to deep midfield, having recovered from his own knock from Monday night.

But whatever players occupy which position, they all know their role in the side under Bielsa, so it made little difference to our shape and style of play. Ayling looked solid in central defence and Alioski had his best game of the season to date, getting forward to support Harrison so that many of our best attacks came down that side, despite a couple of strong challenges from Cash on the Villa right.

The one player who didn’t seem quite at home in his new position was Struijk, who was to force Bielsa into an early change. Having been booked for a late tackle on Grealish (fine choice of target) he then made another risky challenge. I didn’t think this foul was as bad as the commentators made out, as he tried to pull out at the last minute, but his momentum carried him into the Villa player.

The ref didn’t even call him over for a word, never mind think about a second yellow card, but it was enough to convince Bielsa that a change was needed, and being Bielsa he was decisive enough to make that change right away. He said that with the game being so fluid it would be easy to mis-time a tackle, which could be code for Villa players being likely to fall over. Struijk looked disconsolate as he walked round the pitch, but it was the right decision.

So Shackleton came on, and looked far more suited to that position, putting in a lively performance getting up and down the field to support the attack or the defence, as required. Much like a Kalvin Phillips without the reckless tackles, he more than played his part as we dominated possession and should keep that role in the side until Phillips is back.

One early chance saw a diving Bamford header go just wide and an even better opportunity came when a ball from the right found Rodrigo unmarked ten yards from goal. He should have just hit it with his right foot but tried a clever side-foot with his left and barely managed to make any contact with the ball.

And with our last chance of the half we again had a Leeds player going with his wrong foot, this time Bamford with the ball coming from the left. He let the ball come across him to his right foot but dragged it wide, when a swing of the left would have sent the ball in the right direction.

Villa had come closest before the break when Ayling gave the ball away for Watkins to cross and when Trezeguet teed up Grealish to shoot Meslier was beaten. But Ayling spared his own blushes by racing back to clear off the line, with the Decision Review System confirming that it wasn’t a goal.

And some even newer technology was involved when Grealish went down on the edge of the area after a slight touch from Costa, but a VAR check showed that he had been a bit too eager to go to ground. And I wasn’t convinced that the contact was inside the box anyway, even though Grealish had fallen inside the area.

Grealish came close again just after the break, when he picked up the ball in his own half and ran past several Leeds players into the box. He opted not to pass to the unmarked Watkins and opted to turn and take the shot himself, and could only put it straight at Meslier. Up to that point the game had been fairly even, but Leeds were to take control after getting in front in the 55th minute.

Harrison again got free on the left and played in Rodrigo, who shot across Martinez and the keeper could only parry the ball in front of him, back into danger. And there was Bamford, showing the desire to make the run into the box and get to it before any of the defenders, to place the ball into the corner of the net.

The goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of Villa, and they began to look very ordinary in the face of our constant fluent passing moves, with Barkley for one beginning to breathe very heavily. Our next chance could have been a penalty when Bamford had his heel trodden on by Mings, though VAR ruled that the contact was unintentional.

That was fair enough, but what wasn’t was Mings’ disgraceful efforts to pull Bamford back to his feet when he was genuinely hurt. Someone should tell Mings about the risk of moving injured players and the risk that could cause further injury. VAR looked at that incident as well, so shouldn’t we have got a penalty for Mings pulling Bamford up by his shirt if the ball was still in play when he did it?

Bamford was understandably angry with Mings and needed treatment but thankfully was able to recover. And in the 67th. minute he was able to get his revenge on Mings and the rest of the Villa defence by crashing the ball into the net from outside the box to put Leeds two in front. By now Leeds were coasting.

Klich hammered in a half-volley that might have been a goal if it hadn’t been straight at Martinez, before Bamford completed his hat-trick in the 74th minute. And this goal was the best of the lot, coming from a move involving Costa, Rodrigo and Shackleton. This found Bamford surrounded by four Villa defenders, but even then he was able to turn and guide his shot into the top corner.

Still we kept coming forward, though Rodrigo sent a free kick well over the bar from a good position. He didn’t have his shooting boots on, but otherwise he had been outstanding in our link-up play throughout the game, and this was his last contribution before being replaced by Pablo. The final change saw Raphinha on for the final seven minutes in place of Costa.

And the hunger for yet more goals continued into the final minutes, as Raphinha played the pass of the match across field to pick out Alioski racing forward yet again on the left. The move deserved a goal and when Alioski played it to Hernandez, Pablo had time to take a touch before shooting. But he opted to hit if first time and dragged it wide. But it didn’t matter in the end, with Leeds getting through to the final whistle with a clean sheet, despite a late chance for Watkins.

So 3-0 it was, and though we could have won by several more this still took us to third in the table overnight. That will change once the rest of the weekend’s games have been played, but this was still the result we needed to get everything back on track. Just how far can we go with this side? Never mind mere survival, can we start to dream of Europe once again?

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