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Leeds United 0 v 1 Brighton and Hove Albion
Barclays Premier League
Saturday, 16th January 2021 Kick-off 15:00
Lacklustre Leeds suffer defeat to lowly Brighton
Saturday, 16th Jan 2021 19:04 by Tim Whelan

Several members of this side had enjoyed a break after being rested from last week’s FA Cup tie, but you would have guessed it, as we lacked our usual fluency and slipped to defeat against relegation-threatened Brighton and Hove Albion.

Marcello Bielsa had two enforced changes to make from the side who began our last league game against Spurs two weeks ago. Mesliler is suffering from an unspecified illness, but Bielsa refused to clarify whether he’s got the dreaded Covid when he was asked after the game. So Kiko the clown was back between the sticks, but for once couldn’t be blamed for a defeat. The only time he let a ball slip from his grasp there was no Brighton player on hand to take advantage.

Phillips was serving his one game ban after accumulating five bookings but on the other hand captain Cooper was back from injury, with Struijk moving forward into the deep midfield position. Llorente was also back in the squad but probably not back to Bielsa-level fitness, so he got no further than the bench. Ayling was again deployed in central defence, with Dallas at right back.

A quick look at social media this evening shows that several scapegoats have been nominated for this defeat by our wonderful fanbase. One of these is the pitch, which would have had several inches of snow melting into it after the famous Elland Road undersoil heating got the game on despite the weather of the last couple of days. There is no doubt it was cutting up throughout the game and made it difficult to play our usual fluent passing.

A few have blamed Struijk, calling him “pedestrian”, though it was always going to be tough for him to match the range of forward passing that Phillips brings to that role. He looked solid defensively, and I think players deserve to be judged on how they perform in their best position, not when they are moved elsewhere for the sake of the side.

Perhaps more deserving of the bile from the internet critics is Ayling, at least for the part he played in allowing Brighton to take the lead in the 17th minute. A neat passing move took the visitors into the Leeds box, ending with a ball from Trossard that left Maupay with the simple task of tapping the ball into the net from close range. He was allowed the freedom of the back post by Ayling’s ball-watching and complete failure to track his run into the box from a wide position.

At least that left us plenty of time to get back into the game, or so we thought. Rodrigo was close to scoring from a dangerous low Alioski cross, but failed to get the touch he needed, possibly because he was distracted by the defender’s lunge just before the ball reached him. It was a similar story from another cross a few minutes later, with Bamford just failing to reach the ball that time.

At the other end Luke Ayling’s day nearly got even worse when a cross deflected off his leg, fortunately coming back off the bar while Casilla was left stranded. And Ben White of all people could have got on the scoresheet on his return to Elland Road after dispossessing Raphinia in his own half and racing to the edge of the Leeds box, but thankfully his fierce shot was blocked.

That wasn’t the only time Raphinia gave the ball away and he didn’t seem quite at home playing on the left wing rather than his usual right. But in general our attacking play was rather pedestrian, and it didn’t help that numerous moves broke down due to misplaced passes. Klich sent a shot over the bar from outside the box, that was about it until half time.

We had to step it up a bit after the break and we did. Five minutes into the second half Raphinia drove down the left and crossed it to Bamford. Our main striker was crowded out by the three defenders around him, but that left space for Harrison as the ball squirmed out to the right. But unfortunately the winger sent his shot just beyond the far post, not quite getting enough curl to send it into the top corner.

But for all our increased energy, Brighton should have gone further in front a few minutes later. This time it was Alioski who gave the ball away, allowing Maupay to get to the touchline and pull back for Trossard, who generously sent the ball over the bar. Was this all part of Brighton’s legendary inability to kill teams off when they are in front?

Over the next 15 minutes Bielsa made his three substitutions to try to get us back into the game. Tyler Roberts came on for Rodrigo, which seemed like a change for the sake of making a change, with a player who has yet to impress in the Premier League replacing one of our biggest signings. But at least Roberts covered plenty of ground for the rest of the game as we tried to draw level.

Pablo came on for Alioski, necessitating reshuffle as Dallas went to left back, Ayling to right back, and Struijk dropping back into central defence. The final change saw another expensive signing leaving the field as Poveda replaced Raphinha. It’s no surprise that Brighton’s changes were all more defensive, and though we had far more possession in the closing stages we rarely looked like breaking through the massed ranks of their defence.

There was a cross played into Bamford in a good position which he failed to touch altogether and a shot from Roberts from a narrow angle. And we had half a shout for a penalty when Harrison was eased off the ball, but nothing doing from the referee. We did force a number of corners, but Brighton keeper Sanchez proved himself to be adept at coming out to claim them.

Three minutes of injury time weren’t enough for us to force an equaliser, and so we had gone down to another disappointing home defeat, with Brighton becoming the lowest placed team to take points off us this season. This will inevitably leave us looking over our shoulder, but at least we have an eleven point cushion over third bottom, at least before Fulham play Chelsea.

After the game Bielsa told Match of the Day “We didn’t defend as well as we could, especially in the capacity to recover the ball. We always had to recover in the moments that the opponents tried to attack and not in the final 30 minutes, we didn’t attack with the fluidity that we usually do. Those two aspects meant our performance wasn’t a good one. Given how the game played out I felt we could have managed a different result.”

Indeed we could Marcello, but we will have to do better than this in our next game. We will have Phillips back and something more like our first choice defence, but we’ve still got some work to do to secure another season of Premier League football.

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