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Leeds suffer frustrating defeat as the Villa get their revenge
Sunday, 28th Feb 2021 17:29 by Tim Whelan

This was far from the most exciting game of our roller-coaster season. After Aston Villa took the lead in the fifth minute they were mostly content to sit on it for the whole of the rest of the match, and Leeds were unable to break them down.

There was just the one change from the midweek win over Southampton, with Helda Costa being rewarded for his impressive contribution after coming on in that game, being included in the starting line-up in place of Jack Harrison. But there was a change in formation, with Struijk asked to play in a defensive midfield role a Bielsa opted not to have three central defenders for this game.

The Villa were missing their main talisman Jack Grealish. And once again the pitch was another of the main talking points, and it’s certainly taking it’s time to ‘bed in’, with players still having trouble keeping their footing on it. It’s starting to look like our worst purchase from a London club since Michael Duberry.

In the first couple of minutes Bamford cut in from the right and tried a curling left foot shot from outside the box, but seemed to slip as he did so, the ball just evading Raphinha at the far post. The Brazilian might have been better to try a diving header, though we were to find later in the game that heading isn’t really his thing.

A few minutes later there was a similar event at the other end, but this time it resulted in a goal. Watkins was the player trying a shot, and it ended up with the alrert, unmarked and just about onside El Ghazi. He slightly miscontrolled his first touch so it went behind him, but still had time to turn and guide the ball beyond Meslier to put Villa one in front.

El Ghastly was the Villa player dismissed in the stormy game when the teams last met at Elland Road, though his red card was rescinded after Bamford was found to have gone down rather easily. Ghastly looked determined to get his revenge for that indignity, and put in a lively performance, coming close to getting his second with a fierce shot from outside the area.

We soon had a chance to get back on level terms, when Raphinha had a shot blocked but it fell kindly for Roberts. Roberts took it round a defender and hit a powerful shot, but it was too close to Martinez, who was able to react and make the save. That was as close as we would get during the first half.

At the other end Ghastly had two more decent shots from outside the area, but Meslier was able to deal with them both. Before the break another chance fell to Roberts, but he put this one well over the bar, as he does far too often. You wonder if he ever practises shooting in training, specifically how not to get his foot underneath the ball at the moment he strikes it.

It wasn’t long into the second half before Bielsa made his first change, with Struijk making was for Alioski, with Dallas becoming the latest to have a go at being the defensive midfielder in the absence of Phillips. Once again Struijk had looked uncomfortable in that role, and for all the young Dutchman’s impressive performances in his usual position, it seems the more experienced central defenders will be playing there when they are fit.

Around this time the game started to get a bit heated, with Targett and Roberts both booked after an altercation, though the replay suggested Roberts hadn’t done a lot wrong. Then Llorente seemed to be hurt by a challenge from Watkins, but got up quickly enough when the Villa man pulled him to his feet. He’s had enough genuine injuries this season, so he doesn’t need to make up any new ones.

But Leeds weren’t getting any livelier where it really mattered in terms of putting pressure on the Villa goal, and the second change saw Harrison coming on for the unimpressive Helda Costa in the 64th minute. By now Villa were getting back in numbers and Leeds were struggling to get through them, though as Villa were winning the game it was up to us to find a way through them.

It seemed that even whenever we did attack through there was always a misplaced pass that stopped us getting behind their defence quickly enough, and even Raphinha wasn’t quite on his game for once. The final substitution saw Hernandez coming on for Roberts for the final 20 minutes, though there would have been a case for removing Klich, who again looked a little bit laboured after his recent illness.

And Pablo could have been on the scoresheet right away after Ayling’s ball from the right had picked him out, but a poor first touch gave Mings the chance to intercept. But our best chance of the closing stages came from a deep cross from Harrison that found Raphinha in space beyond the far post, but the Brazilian could only direct his header wide of the post.

Five minutes of injury time were announced and Meslier came forward for a corner, initially standing right in front of Martinez before moving further back. He will know what keepers don’t like in these situations, but I don’t know why he had both arms in the air, as if he could catch the ball. The corner was eventually cleared, but not before Bamford was wrestled to the floor off the ball.

The referee failed to spot that, but we might have expected that the VAR man would have drawn that to his attention. Presumably it was this incident that Bamford was complaining to the officials about after the final whistle. And so we ran out of time and Villa completed a revenge mission, both for El Ghazi personally and for their team, after our 3-0 win in the last fixture at Villa Park.

Marcello Bielsa said in his post-match interview that we had dominated the second half. Which might have been right in terms of possession, but it was quantity rather than quality, as we rarely looked like breaking down the Villa defence. Llorente was one of the few players to emerge with credit, his theatrics apart, and we can only hope that he will now enjoy a good spell free of injury to establish an understanding with the rest of the defence.

There has been much slating of some of the other players on social media, but it was just a bad night at the office. We’re still in a comfortable mid-table position, so let’s just look forward to the next game, against West Ham next weekend.

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