|Leicester City 1 v 3 Leeds United|
Barclays Premier League
Sunday, 31st January 2021 Kick-off 14:00
Bamford ends his barren run to fire Leeds to victory
Sunday, 31st Jan 2021 21:40 by Tim Whelan
Before the game Sky were keen to point out that we had taken only one point from games against the top six. But not any more, as we produced one of the performances of the season to beat Leicester City.
There was one enforced change to make, as Llorente had failed to recover from his latest injury setback, so Struijk had to continue as his deputy. And he delivered another impressive performance at the back, showing just what he can do when he gets the chance in his favoured position.
We had of course suffered a crushing 4-1 defeat to Leicester at Elland Road earlier in the season, when they were well set up to exploit the gaps left at the back by our all-out attacking style. But this time they were without the pace of Vardy, so they wouldn’t find it quite so east to break quickly enough before our defence rushed back to defend in numbers.
That said, they still made a good job of counter-attacking in the 13th minute when they took the lead after we lost possession in their half. Barnes made a long run to the edge of our area and played a one-two with Maddison, before his neat footwork created the shooting opportunity despite the presence of four Leeds defenders, and he sent it across Meslier and just inside the far post.
On the touchline the setback caused Marcello Bielsa to grab a cup of tea, but that wasn’t going to end well. Within two minutes Leeds were back on level terms, after Ayling picked up a loose ball and fed Bamford, while Dallas made a determined run into space to his left. Bamford played the through ball and Dallas made no mistake, shooting past Schmeichel into the far corner, and causing Bielsa to spill his tea all over his hand.
And when Perez seemed to have put us behind again, the goal was ruled out for offside, and it was the delightful Sian Massey who was waving the flag in our favour. I remember a night game at Preston shortly after the Andy Gray controversy when she ruled out an opposition goal, and was thanked by a ‘there’s only one Sian Massey’ chant from a grateful Leeds end.
Of course these days VAR has the final say, but she continues to be a good luck charm for Leeds when it comes to offside decisions. Soon after we suffered yet another injury to a major signing, as Rodrigo overstretched and fell to the floor, clutching his nether regions. He tried to continue, but had to be replaced by Klich shortly afterwards.
But the change did little to knock us out of our stride, and Klich produced the next chance of the game, as his cross found Harrison clear on the left. As on Tuesday night, Harrison hit a fierce shot first time, and would undoubtedly have scored again if he hadn’t hit it so close to Schmeichel. And we had a disallowed goal of our own, from the resulting corner.
Bamford’s header would have counted if it had gone straight in, Schmeichel clawed it off the line, and Klich was well offside position when he knocked the rebound in. Of course it was ruled out, it was at the opposite end from Sian Massey.
Both sides had chances in the latter stages of the first half, with Raphinia and Perez being denied by the respective keepers, but the teams went in level at half-time. Brendan Rogers made a tactical change for the second period, with Soyuncu replacing Albrighton to go to three at the back and allow Maddison and Barnes to get further forward.
Initially we struggled with this switch, and Leicester were to enjoy their best spell of the game. In the first few minutes of the half Tielemans played in Justin on the Leicester right, but he took too long to get his shot away, giving time for Cooper to get back and make the block. Bielsa instructed Dallas to drop a little deeper to cope with their forward movement, but Leicester were still dominating the possession.
Meslier needlessly punched a corner away when he could have caught the ball, and slightly fumbled the save after the ball fell to Pereira, but there was no Leicester player on hand to take advantage. And with 20 minutes to go Leeds broke the shackles and took the lead with another excellent move downfield.
Raphinha played a great ball through to Bamford, who let the ball run across him onto his favoured left foot, and hammered the ball past Schmeichel into the net. And of course Sian Massey kept her flag down by her side. She loves Leeds, you know. The assist was one of Raphinha’s final contributions before he was forced off with a thigh injury to be replaced by Costa, so we finished the game with an eleven who had all played in the Championship last season.
Leicester weren’t done yet, and after a shot from Fofana was deflected over, and from the corner Evans just failed to turn Soyuncu’s header into the net, having undoubtedly been distracted by Perez diving in front of him. Meslier was forced into another couple of fine saves by Perez and Mendy, before we sealed the win with another breakaway goal in the 84th minute.
One of Costa’s few contributions was to concede a needless free kick well inside our half, but that proved to be a crafty move as it was cleared out to Dallas on the left. He got it forward to Klich, who sent a perfectly timed through to Bamford, with no question of an offside flag this time as he was in our half when the ball was played.
Bamford was sent clean through with only Schmeichel to beat, and just when I thought he’d slowed up too much, with Evans bearing down on him from behind, he rolled it across to Harrison. It shows the fitness levels Bielsa demands from his team when Harrison was able to race the full length of the field that late in the game, and he made no mistake in guiding the ball into the empty net.
There were three minutes of injury time to survive beyond the 90, but we held out with no further alarms, to record probably the most impressive of our victories this season. I have of course had to endure a message from a Man U fan to thank me for Leeds helping them out, but I won’t let that spoil my enjoyment of a result that leaves us looking up the table rather than down, wondering where this side can take us by the end of the season.
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