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Leeds United 2 v 2 Everton
Barclays Premier League
Saturday, 21st August 2021 Kick-off 15:00
Raphinha’s excellent strike earns Leeds a point
Sunday, 22nd Aug 2021 16:39 by Tim Whelan

Leeds had most of the possession throughout the game, but for the most part Everton’s attack seemed to carry the greater threat. In the end a draw was probably a fair result.

We all expected a lively and emotional atmosphere from our first capacity crowd since the start of lockdown, and despite the weather the day didn’t disappoint. For many younger fans it will have been their first experience of watching Leeds in the flesh in the Premier League, and it’s been a while even for us codgers who remember the 1990s.

The tribute to those we have lost was well respected, as was the taking of the knee (again a first inside the stadium for many of us) though I did hear a couple of boos for the latter. There was also a flag by every one of the home seats, in a shade of yellow a bit too bright to be a traditional Leeds colour, but you could make a high visibility vest out of a few of them if you need one.

There were two changes to the starting line-up, with Phillips coming back for Koch (who wasn’t even on the bench) and Firpo making his full debut in place of Rodrigo while Dallas moved back to midfield. We thought this meant that Phillips and Firpo were now up to the Bielsa level of fitness, but both seemed to flag a bit in the second half.

The new pitch was also making it’s competitive debut, and it seemed to play pretty well despite the wet conditions, with only Richarlison finding it difficult to stay on his feet. Leeds began brightly and created a few half-chances early on, and Ayling and Phillips had long-distance shots deflected away for corners.

But although Everton had been content to sit back, they began to look dangerous on the break, with much of the threat coming down the two flanks. For the second week running a player much criticised for inconsistency chose the game against us to play a blinder, Pogba last week, Demarai Gray this, though I do remember Gray causing us problems more than once in his Birmingham days.

First he popped up on the right wing to deliver a dangerous ball across the face of goal which Calvert-Lewin was inches away from getting a touch that surely would have turned it into the net. But mostly he was operating on the left, and another cross to Calvert-Lewin led to the opening goal on the half-hour.

The referee waved play-on as the Everton forward sat on the floor, claiming he’d been fouled, and Meslier kicked the ball out so Klich could get treatment. When VAR flashed up on the screen I hoped that Klich had been whacked so it was a possible red card, but no. The ref was advised to look at the monitor and decided that Cooper had pulled Calvert-Lewin back, so it was a penalty.

Cooper was booked, though I wasn’t sure whether this was for the foul or for dissent, and Cooper would complain on match of the day that his shirt was being pulled as well before they both fell over. Calvert-Lewin took the penalty himself and there was much luminous flag-waving on the Kop to try to put him off, as well as the sight of one fan exposing his over-sized belly.

But although Meslier went the right way Calvert-Lewin wasn’t to be distracted and thumped the ball into the corner of the net, before launching into an extremely irritating goal celebration and attracting a couple of missiles in the process. Leeds were a bit unlucky to be behind at that stage, and within a couple of minutes we were close to being level, as Raphinha shot narrowly wide.

But the equaliser did come in the 41st minute, as Bamford won possession just inside the Everton half and moved forward before spotting Klich’s excellent run. Klich almost seemed to get the ball caught under his feet, but executed a perfectly timed chip over Pickford as the England keeper went to ground in front of him, and Leeds were back on level terms.

There were six minutes injury time at the end of the first half, mainly due to the length of the stoppage for the VAR check, and in this period Doucoure forced Meslier into a fine save with a long-distance strike, but the score remained 1-1 at the break. Yet it didn’t stay that way for long, with the scousers going back in front only five minutes into the second period.

This came when Doucoure found Gray on the edge of the area, and though Gray’s first touch wasn’t great, he managed to turn and then shoot through Dallas’ legs and into the far corner from a narrow angle. And Everton could have gone further in front on the hour when Iwobi went past Firpo as if he wasn’t there to set up Calvert-Lewin, but Meslier came out to save Leeds once again.

That move was the final straw for Firpo, who was replaced by Shackleton, with the ever-versatile Dallas returning to left-back, and Klich went off for Roberts to come on. I wasn’t sure why this second sub was made unless Klich was still feeling his first-half knock, though Roberts looked lively and was involved in some of our better moves in the time that remained.

Roberts went close from a narrow angle as Leeds forced a succession of corners, but our second equaliser came from a free-kick. As it was floated towards the far post Cooper and Struijk seemed to get in each other’s way, but Cooper managed to play it back to Raphinha, who was lurking on the edge of the box. And the Brazilian hit a magnificent strike first time, curling round the defenders trying to block the shot and inside the far post.

Richarlison was close to putting Everton in front again with a shot that went narrowly wide, but then Benitez seemed to settle for the draw, taking off his main attacking threats one by one. First Iwobi, then Gray, then a final time-wasting sub on 90 minutes as Calvert-Lewin was replaced. The second change did at least give us the chance to welcome Fabian Delph back to Elland Road, reminding him that “you’re Leeds and you know you are!”.

As Everton fell back on defence it simply invited pressure, and both our central defenders went close from free-kicks delivered by Raphinha. And right at the end we had a penalty shout of our own as Mina grappled with Bamford, but despite our chants of “VAR, VAR”, there was nothing doing this time.

So a draw it was, and although a point from two games isn’t great, we do at least move off the bottom of the table. And although we are one point better off compared to the same two fixtures last season, it looks like our defence needs Fipro to improve and Llorente to get back to fitness as soon as possible.

But overall this performance shows we should at least be good enough for another season of mid-table security, and next week’s trip to Burnley will be a good opportunity to register our first league win of the season. MOT!


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