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Leeds fight back to claim a deserved point
Sunday, 24th Oct 2021 12:47 by Tim Whelan

We left it late to score the equaliser against Wolverhampton Wanderers, but arguably we should have won the game on the balance of play.

On the way into Elland Road they were doing Covid checks on the way into the East stand, but on the Kop just yet. Which was lucky as I didn’t find out about this till the day of the game, and I’m not sure I’ve got an up to date certificate thing on my phone, but I’m double-jabbed anyway, so I can’t be that infectious.

Of the various injured players, Phillips was the only one who had recovered sufficiently to make the bench, but he never left it as he isn’t yet back up to Bielsa levels of fitness. So the one change from the starting line-up at Southampton was the return of Raphinha, now that he is no longer worn out from his trip to play for Brazil.

This meant that we had three wingers, despite there being only two wings on a football field. How would this be accommodated? Would Harrison be any good at left back? Would Raphininha play in the centre as a ‘number 10’, as some on social media have advocated? No, it was Dan James who was moved inside, while Dallas continued at full back.

We made a lively start, and Rodrigo went close with a clever back-header from a corner that went just beyond the far post. But then Wolves scored in the tenth minute with their first decent attack. Harrison was caught out by a thrown in he was expecting to be given to us, allowing Semedo to get down that flank and cross to Jimenez.

The Mexican’s shot was blocked, but with three defenders grouped close together Hee-Chan was left in plenty of space, and unfortunately the rebound fell right into his path. He was left with the simple task of slotting the ball past Meslier, and he didn’t miss. We might have though ‘here we go again’ as our poor start to the season continued, but this wasn’t to be a repeat of last week’s Southampton debacle, and we battled back to force Wolves onto the back foot for the rest of the game.

Our best chance of the first half fell to Harrison, but his powerful shot went into the side netting from a difficult angle. Our progress wasn’t helped by the visitor’s determination to waste time and fall over at every opportunity even so early in the game, with Jiminez being the guilty party more than once. The South Stand duly informed them that they’re “just a **** Aston Villa”, in honour of the last team to grace Elland Road with such tactics.

So it was a bit of a surprise that only one minute was added on to the first half. Bielsa decided to replace Harrison with Roberts for the second period. Which will have annoyed Robert’s many detractors on social media, but did at least allow James to play as a winger rather than looking a bit lost somewhere in the middle.

The second half began in the same fashion as the first, with Wolves getting all eleven players behind the ball and Leeds finding it hard to play through them and create chances. Frustration began to rise as several moves broke down through misplaced places, and the bloke behind me shouted “Roberts, you’re ****”! Certainly, his next two touches of the ball did nothing to disprove that theory.

As ever Raphinha was our main inspiration, but on 54 minutes we lost him to a dangerous sliding tackle from Saiss that made contact long after the ball had gone. The only punishment for Saiss was a booking for either handball or dissent, but not for the tackle itself. I can only assume that the man in the VAR studio was having his afternoon nap at that point.

We’ll never run out of wingers at this club, and Summerville came on and looked lively, but the substitution that really changed the game was the introduction of Gelhardt in place of Klich eight minutes later. While Klich had started to look a bit weary, the 19 year-old was a constant worry for the Wolves defence, with his constant running and willingness to take them on.

I took at a Wolves forum after the game and they were very critical of Bruno Lage’s tactics, not only for falling back on defence from such an early stage, and for not making a change until the 75th minute when their midfield was getting leggy and in increasing danger of getting over-run. But they did manage to mount a couple of counter-attacks that could have sealed the game.

On one break I was glad the ball wasn’t squared to an umarked Jiminez as he was allowed to run into the area completely challenged. But their best chance was a dubious free kick they were given just outside the box, which thankfully was sent well over the bar. And there was also a shot that Podence struck well but straight at Meslier, so the save wasn’t that difficult.

Apart from these moments it was Leeds, roared on by a near-capacity crowd in our determination not to go down to another defeat. A couple of headers from set pieces were scrambled away, and then Gelhardt was close to crowning his Elland Road debut with a goal, as his powerful shot was just tipped over the bar by Sa.

Six minutes of injury time were announced, though to take account of all the Wolves time-wasting it should have been at least a week. Gelhardt wasn’t to be denied his moment of glory, and as he jinked his way into the box he was sent to the floor by a despairing push from Semedo. As the crowd celebrated the penalty award there was still the small matter of scoring it (I remember the 1998 FA Cup 6th round against the same opposition).

With a couple of recent penalty takers either injured or substituted I wondered who was going to take it, but Rodrigo stepped up to do the honours. Sa tried to put him off by standing right of centre, but Rodrigo kept his nerve, sending it into that corner on the correct assumption that Sa would dive the other way.

There was still time left for us to snatch a winner, which we could have done if Gelhardt’s last minute shot hadn’t been deflected wide. But a draw it was, though it felt like a victory after we’d left it so late and could have gone down to another defeat. On this showing we are going to be too good to go down, though we need to get a few of the injured players back if we are to convert our possession into goals and points.

Someone in the crowd said he’d heard that Raphinha is likely to be out for three or four weeks, but hopefully he’ll be back sooner than that. But a more pressing question is whether Gelhardt should get a start against Norwich. I think he should if Bamford isn’t back, and at the very least he should be first substitute ahead of Roberts. Over to you, Marcello.


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