Leeds survive the controversy to record an impressive win
Wednesday, 24th Feb 2021 21:38 by Tim Whelan
At the start of an eventful first half Leeds struggled to impose themselves on Southampton, but in the second it was all plain sailing.
There was just the one change to the starting line-up, and after several months when we seemed to be running out of centre halves, we managed to field three of them in one game. Diego Llorente came in for Jamie Shackleton, but rather than take over deep-lying midfield role he played in his natural position, as Bielsa prefers to have three central defenders when the opposition have two up front.
And what’s more, Llorente managed to complete a full ninety minutes without collapsing with another injury. I thought at times that he wasn’t quite on the same wavelength as some of his teammates, but their understanding is bound to develop once he’s got through a few more games.
The Saints rested a couple of their first choice players due to their busy fixture schedule, though this allowed Nathan Tella to make his first start for them. I was going to say he looked impressive, but that was before we found out that he’s a diving, cheating git.
The visitors had the best of the opening period of the game, looking determined to play us at our own game, being quick to close us down in numbers whenever we got the ball. They had the first chance of the game when Vestergaard found space in the box despite our surfeit of central defenders, but thankfully placed his header just wide.
Tella was the next to go close after breaking through our defence with an impressive run, but Meslier was able to pull off a fine save to keep his shot out. Once again the pitch was proving to be difficult, with players of both sides having trouble keeping their feet, and in the early stages it seemed to inhibit our neat passing game as we tried to get forward.
We had started with Harrison on the right and Raphinha on the left, but began to enjoy more of the possession once they had swapped to their usual flanks. Raphinha made one of his trademark runs to the byline and pulled the ball back to Roberts, but unfortunately the young Welshman could only send his shot well over the bar.
But we had to survive a dodgy moment 10 minutes from the break, as Tella went down in the box and referee Andre Marriner pointed to the spot. It looked very soft at normal speed, and even softer once they ran the TV replay, as Llorente had stopped his run, but Tella had stuck his leg out to initiate the contact.
Thankfully there was an outbreak of common sense, as the VAR man advised Marriner to look at the screen, and he then reversed his original decision. At the other end Raphinha was sent racing through against McCarthy, only to take slightly too long and allow Romeu to run up behind him and make a superb goal-saving tackle. I thought at first that Romeu had just taken him out, but you could see on the replay that he had in fact got the ball.
There was one more moment of controversy before half-time, when Ward-Prowse took a free-kick a second too song, and although Che Adams had the ball in the net it was pulled back because the whistle hadn’t been blown. Southampton protested, but the Leeds defence would have been far more alert if the kick had been taken at the proper time.
Helda Costa replaced Harrison for the second half and was to produce one of his better performances since the first month of the season, playing on his usual right wing as Raphinha went back to the left.
The Saints had the first chance of the half, with Meslier saving from Armstrong, but a minute later Leeds had taken the lead, as Roberts played a superb long ball to set Bamford free, and our top scorer drilled the ball into the corner of the net.
Leeds were starting to take control now, and Raphinha set Roberts up for two more chances, but he put one just wide and the other was saved. At the other end captain Cooper took charge to divert an Adams shot over the bar, though Meslier may well have been able to reach it anyway. On the hour Ralph Hasenhüttl brought Ings and Djenepo on to try to get back into the game, but if anything Leeds became even more dominant as the game went on.
We were forced into another change of our own as Klich had to leave the field with what looked like a back injury, and he is now doubtful for Saturday’s game against Aston Villa. Alioski came on and Dallas moved to the midfield. That little to slow our momentum, as Alioski linked up with Raphinha on the left to set up Llorente, though he failed to generate the power that would have troubled McCarthy.
But it was only a matter of time before we got the second. Dallas played a long ball down the right and Costa got his skates on to reach it, before cutting inside to send the return ball to the Ulster man, and Dallas curled the ball into the corner of the net with the outside of his right foot. And the final goal arrived six minutes from time, Djenepo brought Costa down as he moved into a dangerous position, getting a yellow card for his troubles.
But that was only a temporary reprieve for the Saints, as Raphinha stepped up and curled the free kick into the far corner. Annoyingly he was then booked for taking his shirt off to show a tribute to Ronaldinho’s mother, who died at the weekend from the dreaded Covid. They should scrap the ridiculous rule that that is a compulsory booking, especially at times like this.
But that was about the only irritation on what was a great night, as we won our game in hand to move back into that all-important top half of the table.
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