Ten man Leeds snatch a classic win at the Etihad
Saturday, 10th Apr 2021 19:36 by Tim Whelan
I wasn’t expecting to get anything from this game, but it turned into an absolute classic, as Leeds held out against Manchester City with ten men, then snatched a win in the last minute.
Marcello Bielsa made just the one enforced change, with Helda Costa coming in as Harrison was ineligible against his parent club. In contrast Pep Guardiola did quite a bit of squad rotating with the Champions League second leg to come on Wednesday, but the team he put out still had a strong look about it.
The game began at quite a slow pace, with little sign of the dramas to come. Leeds were playing with a bit more caution than the gung-ho tactics we employed earlier in the season, even against the biggest clubs. While City looked a little bit disjointed, perhaps having a combination of players who hadn’t played together that often.
City’s best early opportunities were falling to Sterling, and he sent one shot over the bar, before he created another chance by bursting down the left and cut in past Llorente, but shot straight at Meslier when he could have squared it to a couple of his colleagues in the centre. I thought that Stones might profit from our vulnerability at corners and at one he was riskily manhandled by Cooper, but thankfully VAR weren’t looking that time.
And from another corner city produced their best chance of the first half. Torres had a shot blocked by Cooper diving in front of him, then Ayling moved to smother when the rebound spun out to Jesus. It bounced onto his arm, but there is no way it could have been regarded as deliberate from such close range.
Leeds were finding it hard to play through City whenever we tried to get forward, and a couple of promising breaks ended with the ball played just behind Bamford. The second of these was the better chance, but Stones got a slight touch on Robert’s cross and took the pace off the ball so that Bamford got ahead of it as he rushed through.
The game had been fairly uneventful for the first forty minutes, but it sprang to life in the last few minutes before the break, starting with the goal that put Leeds in front in the 42nd minute. Costa found space down the left and got past a half-hearted challenge to play the ball to Bamford. He in turn spotted Dallas racing forwards unchallenged, and the Ulsterman’s shot hit the inside of the near post, but spun along the line and crept just inside the far post.
Cooper went in with a strong challenge and played the ball, but unfortunately his momentum took him into Jesus, who stayed down. Yes, his foot was a bit high, but that’s where the ball was. Initially Andrew Marriner thought a yellow card was sufficient, but the VAR man persuaded him to look at the big screen, and it was one of those that looked worse in slow motion.
So it was yet another VAR decision against Leeds, and Marriner produced the red card. The game has gone soft. I’m sure if Cooper had really meant to do him he would have led with his stronger left foot. And lo, there was a miracle as Jesus rose again from the dead and came back onto the field. I thought Easter was last week.
All the same, Leeds would be up against it from now on, and Bielsa sacrificed Bamford so Struijk could come on and replenish the defence. As the players walked off at half-time Llorente told Marriner exactly what he thought of the decision, but Leeds would have plenty of defending to do. And so we had the unusual sight of a Bielsa team getting everyone behind the ball, with every one of them putting their bodies on the line, determined to keep the opposition out.
As we’d conceded so much space in our own half of the field, Stones took advantage of having no defensive duties to keep running through at our defence. One of his forays set up Zinchenko to shoot from outside the area, but Meslier stretched to get to the rebound ahead of Sterling, getting his fingers stood on for good measure.
Stones then got really carried away and tried a shot himself, but could only direct it straight at Meslier. We seemed content to let City shoot from distance and with good reason, as many of their long-distance efforts were similarly badly directed. And whenever they tried a high ball into the box it was comfortably claimed by Meslier, with City lacking any tall strikers to get on the end of it.
On 63 minutes Bielsa made his second change, further reinforcing the defence by taking Roberts off in favour of Koch. Which meant that we had three central defenders on the field and no recognised striker, and that all four central defenders in the squad had been on the field for at least part of this game. But there would have been the option of putting Gelhardt on if we’d ever gone behind and needed to chase a goal.
But the danger was that City had a number of top players on their own bench, and as the game began to slip away from him Pep sent on Gundogan and Foden for Ake and Mendy, but it was surprising that he never used his third substitute, with the option of sending De Bruyne out to join them. When City had a free-kick in a dangerous position Zinchenko’s effort was headed away by the wall, but perhaps De Bruyne wouldn’t have given them the chance.
A shot from Torres was deflected just wide, but just when we thought Leeds would hold out, City finally got the breakthrough with 14 minutes left. A ball into the box from Fernandinho was well controlled by Bernado Silva, and Torres was there to equalise for City. Unfortunately Meslier slipped as the ball was played to Torres, and he couldn’t quite get across in time to reach the shot.
At that stage it looked likely that City would go on to win the game, with Leeds initially looking a bit rattled by the equaliser. But having lost the lead, we started to be a bit more adventurous as we sensed the possibility of regaining it. Raphinha was always a threat on the break, and he was superbly denied by a tackle from Ederson as he attempted to round the City keeper.
As the hosts continued to press Silva shot wide and then Meslier made yet another save to keep out a header from Fernandinho, yet it was Leeds who were to snatch the win as the game moved into injury time. Alioski played an inch-perfect through ball with the outside of his foot to send Dallas racing between three City defenders, and he put the ball through Ederson’s legs as the City keeper came racing off his line.
It’s nice to see at least one man from Northern Ireland with something to be happy about in these difficult times. There were still a few minutes of stoppage time to endure, with probably a minute added on for the time taken up by the goal celebration, but we managed to see it out and claim the most memorable win we’ve enjoyed since our return to the Premier League.
We had only two shots all game and absorbed an awful lot of pressure, but it was payback time for all the games in the Championship when we battered the opposition only to lose the game. I was going to say that the win also made us mathematically safe, but it’s been pointed out on Facebook that WBA could yet catch us if they win all their remaining games!
Be that as it may, this is a win we will remember for a very long time, and it will set up nicely to prepare for next season with the confidence that on our day we can mix it with the very best and come out on top.
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