|Leeds United 3 v 0 Crewe Alexandra|
Tuesday, 24th August 2021 Kick-off 19:45
Late goal burst sees Leeds overcome Crewe
Wednesday, 25th Aug 2021 23:31 by Tim Whelan
Leeds made hard work of this tie against a spirited Crewe Alexandra side, but the late introduction of Patrick Bamford made all the difference, and three goals in the last fifteen minutes took us safely through to the next round.
There was another great atmosphere inside Elland Road, with the crowd swollen to over 34,000 by some of the many fans to had been unable to get tickets for Saturday’s great return to Elland Road, though the fact that a purchase for this game gave you priority for the Liverpool match might have something to do with it as well.
Crewe had brought enough to fill the upper tier of the away section, with the official away attendance being 1,494. Their fans that I met before the game were gloomy about their prospects for the season, as they have lost a couple of key players and have only one point from four games in the league, but they were certainly up for this tie and gave their team some decent backing throughout the game.
And it also looks like Marcello Bielsa is taking the competition seriously, fielding a far stronger line-up than the teams who lost to Stoke and Hull at the same stage in the last two seasons. Nine of the starting eleven had played at least some part of the Man U and Everton games, and the other two were Llorente and Forshaw coming from injury lay-offs, the latter playing his first game for almost two years.
And just to be on the safe side, there were several first team regulars on the bench, just in case things didn’t go to plan. Crewe began brightly and forced us back into defence in the opening stages, but Llorente was looking very assured at the back and snuffed out most of the danger. I’ve heard a stat that we conceded only half the number of goals per game in the matched he played in last season, so he’d better get back to full match fitness pretty soon.
The Yorkshire Post have reported that Bielsa told Crewe boss David Artell at the end that Crewe had set up well and that it took him about 20 minutes to work out the visitors’ tactics. From about that time Leeds began to dominate possession, though Ben Knight was working hard for Crewe, and perhaps deserved better than to be called “just a shit Alioski” because of his similar hairdo.
As the chances started to come Firpo clipped the outside of the post, and when a tame shot from Roberts was blocked but it fell kindly for Forshaw, with Jaaskelainen having to go full stretch to keep it out. Soon afterwards the Crewe keeper made an even better save when Harrison was able to bring the ball in from the flank unchallenged and struck a powerful shot from outside the area, which Jaaskelainen did very well to tip round the post.
As the game warmed up there was some entertainment of a different sort as a woman ran on the pitch and seemed to want to pull her shirt up and flash her boobs at the Kop, before she was dragged away by a couple of stewards. All rather strange, unless she was pissed. As for the football, a corner from Harrison found Phillips running into the area unchallenged, and the Yorkshire Pirlo should have done better than to head it wide of the post.
And so we reached the break with the scores level, with Leeds so far unable to break down their determined opponents. For the most part the bit-part players were failing to take the opportunity to stake their claim for more regular first team action, with Roberts looking ineffectual and Costa still unable to take players on and deliver decent crosses, even against League One opposition.
Of the Spanish contingent, Rodrigo again seemed a bit lost and unsure he was playing as a striker or not, and Firpo seemed reluctant to get forward and offer Harrison support down the left flank, so we were lacking the sort of threat we used to have from Alioski on that side. Hopefully it’s just a fitness thing and Firpo will link up with Harrison a little more once he’s learned the Bielsa way.
Our third Spaniard was replaced at the break as Llorente came off, which hopefully was just to manage his comeback and wasn’t because he had a new injury problem. Ayling came on, but as a straight replacement in central defence, with Shackleton remaining at right back. When the play resumed it was more of the same, with Leeds still having most of the possession but unable to make it count.
Roberts put Harrison through on the left, but with Rodrigo available in the centre he opted to shoot from a fairly difficult angle and dragged the ball across the face of goal and wide of the far post. And another opportunity came and went when Saiss-Davies cleared a shot from Roberts off the line. On the hour it was Forshaw’s turn to end his comeback to make sure he wasn’t pushed too hard to soon, with Klich taking his place.
As the minutes ticked by I started to worry that it might be one of those games where Leeds fail to take their chances and the opposition go and score with their first decent attack, and we had enough of those in Bielsa’s two seasons in the Championship. This could have come to pass when Callum McFadzean broke through and struck a fierce shot on target, but Meslier was able to get down to smother the danger.
At the other end further opportunities went begging as first Costa and then Rodrigo shot well wide from close range, and for the latter it was his final contribution, as he was hauled off in the 69th minute to give Bamford a go. Bielsa might have intended to give one of the youngsters on the bench a taste of first team action, but to avoid embarrassment he had been forced to use all three subs to bring on key players.
Finally with Bamford on the field we began to carry a bit more of a threat up front, and for the first time the Crewe defence began to look a little bit jaded after having to work so hard for so long. First Bamford had a run down the left, but with no support in the centre to give him the option of a cross he had to try a shot from a narrow angle, which was well struck and on target but Jaaskelainen got down well to save.
Then there was a mirror image of this chance, with Bamford coming down the right and again having to take the shot on, with Jaaskelainen again getting down to keep out his fiercely struck shot. But finally Leeds managed to breach the Crewe defence in the 79th minute, to great relief around most of Elland Road. A corner dropped to Phillips on the six yard line in front of the near post, and he got in front of his marker to volley the ball straight in.
Of course we still had a bit of defending to do, and on 85 minutes Crewe got forward to send over a dangerous cross, which Meslier did well to claim before it dropped to one of the forwards either side of him. And instantly spotting the chance of a break he rolled it out to Klich, who sent Bamford down the wing.
In turn he spotted Harrison racing into the box unchallenged, and the winger lifted the ball over Jaaskelainen as the Crewe keeper came off his line, and it dropped into the net to put Leeds two in front and finally make the game safe. And with the visitors starting to run out of puff, Leeds grabbed a third as we entered the 90th minute.
This goal also came from a long ball out to Bamford as Leeds broke downfield. A deft touch took the ball round a defender and he got to the by-line before cutting it back to Roberts. The Welshman could only shoot straight at the keeper, but it fell kindly for Harrison, who hammered the ball between two defenders and into the far corner.
And so it was that Leeds ended up with a final score that made the game look a lot more comfortable than it was, given that well into the second half I was getting worried about the prospect of the lottery of a penalty shoot-out. In the next round we have a Fulham side who have made a great start to the season, and we’ll have to improve on this performance to make further progress in the competition. But here’s hoping.
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