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Lacklustre Leeds slump to defeat at Brighton
Sunday, 2nd May 2021 17:24 by Tim Whelan

We’d been on a good run coming into this game, but once again against Brighton and Hove Albion we produced one of our worst performances of the season.

After an unbeaten run of five games, including a couple against the finest teams in the land, we came into this match with hopes of making the Europa League, now that seventh place in the league will be sufficient to qualify for that tournament. At the start of the day we were six points behind Spurs, who we still have to play.

There were two enforced changes to our starting line-up. Phillips was out, so Koch came in to take his turn as the defensive midfield player, while Struijk remained in central defence. And Costa had failed to recover from the knock he took in the Man U game, and while we might have expected Poveda to deputise, in fact it was Kilch who started the game, with Dallas back in his former stomping ground on the right flank.

We might have thought that a sniff of European football would have inspired Leeds to keep up the high standards of recent weeks, but Brighton had perhaps a more pressing need for the points, in order to put a bit more daylight between themselves and the bottom three at this crucial stage of the season.

At the start of the game Brighton were on the front foot and dominating possession, and throughout they looked far more threatening in front of goal. Their first chance came after seven minutes, when Trossard broke into the box. At first it seemed he had taken too long and given us time to get enough players back to block the danger, but he still managed to get a shot away, which Meslier had to dive across to save.

And in the thirteenth minute Alioski’s limitations as a defender were exposed once again, as he clumsily gave away a penalty. He might have been unlucky to concede the free kick by the touchline which gave Brighton the chance to cross the ball into the box, but there was no doubt about the spot kick award itself.

Alioski wrestled Danny Welbeck to the floor in his attempt to get to the ball, and there were no complaints when the referee pointed to the spot. Meslier went the right way and for half a second I thought he was going to save the penalty, but Gross had put it right into the corner, and with just enough pace to beat Meslier’s dive.

For a time it seemed that going behind had woken Leeds up a bit and we did manage to enjoy a bit of possession for the rest of the half, but we struggled to convert that into decent chances. Brighton were working hard to stop us cutting through their defence, and Bamford was often starved of possession and looking isolated, as lone strikers tend to be when it’s not going well.

The efforts we did have on goal tended to be from long distance. Llorente tried a very ambitious attempt to catch Sanchez off his line, but without getting it to dip nearly enough, and Harrison tried a curling shot that went just wide. Brighton took pity on us with a defensive mix-up from a Harrison cross that could have ended up with an own goal, but the ball bounced wide off Dan Burn.

Speaking of defensive mix-ups, we then produced one of our own, with Llorente conceding possession with a sloppy pass as we tried to play out. Welbeck crossed to Trossard, who blazed over the bar when he really should have scored, precisely the kind of poor finishing that has plagued Brighton all season and has kept them far nearer the bottom of the table than their general play has deserved.

Perhaps our best chance of the half came from Tyler Roberts, who set himself up with his first touch and struck it well with his second, but the defence had had time to get into position for the shot. There was still time before the break for Brighton to go close once again, but Welbeck sent his shot narrowly wide from a good position.

After Alioski’s calamitous performance in the first half it was no surprise that he was ‘hooked’ at the break, with Dallas moving right across the field to left back and Poveda coming on to play wide on the right. Once again Poveda put in a lively performance, but for me he tends to take on too many players most of the time rather than looking for a pass.

In the second half it was more of the same, with Leeds having plenty of the play but lacking the bit of bite we needed to break through, with too many moves breaking down due to poor passes and overhit crosses. Brighton continued to make the better chances at the other end. Veltman shot over the bar, and Ben White (remember him) got to a free kick but headed just over.

Then Maupay gave another example of the woeful finishing he’s been guilty of all season, when he scuffed a shot wide from a good position. On the hour Bielsa made his second change to try to get back into the game, but it was a bit of a surprise that he took Bamford off, when he’d not had much service to do anything with. Rodrigo came on, but again showed that he is not well suited to the job of lone striker.

As in the first half, our best effort came from outside the box, but a volley from Dallas went just over the bar. With his final change Bielsa went for broke in his efforts to get back into the game, with Pablo coming on for Llorente, in the hope that he could provide the through balls needed for Rodrigo to thrive on.

But instead, Brighton killed the game off only a minute later, with an excellent individual goal from Welbeck. He received the ball with his back to goal on the edge of the area, but produced an excellent turn to get past three defenders, before shooting across Meslier into the corner of the net.

There was still ten minutes plus injury time to go, but it was one of those days when it looked as if Leeds wouldn’t score if we’d played on until midnight. Was it that we’d got a bit over-confident after much better results against better sides? Were they looking forward to their holidays after a long hard season? Are we totally dependent on Kalvin Phillips?

Or was it just that the opposition had more of an incentive to get the result? The Europa League is a rubbish competition anyway. Who wants to play on Thursday nights? Cue for plenty of wailing on social media of how some of this side aren’t good enough to take us forward, but maybe it is time to start to give some of the younger players a chance for the remaining games, as the season winds down.

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