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Leeds United 1 v 0 Crystal Palace
Barclays Premier League
Tuesday, 30th November 2021 Kick-off 20:15
Crystal Palace’s Guehi hands Leeds a vital win
Wednesday, 1st Dec 2021 10:38 by Tim Whelan

This was a game that took time to get going, but after an eventful finish we can give thanks to the gods of VAR as a late penalty gave us the chance to take all three points from this game against Crystal Palace.

Even though we scraped a point from the previous game at Brighton, that performance was a little below par and so Marcello Bielsa felt the need to make three changes to the starting line-up. It was no surprise to see Firpo dropped after his torrid time on the south coast, and Rodrigo and Harrison were also left out. In came Struijk, Klich and Roberts.

The first half saw plenty of effort from both sides but there were no clear-cut chances at either end. Leeds had the better of the possession early on, and in the first few minutes Raphinha cut in from the right onto his favoured left foot, but a defender reacted quickly to block his shot, which was deflected way over the bar.

As the eleventh minute began the fans began to chant in honour of Gary Speed, to mark the tenth anniversary of his tragic death ten years ago. He will never be forgotten. Back on the field Adam Forshaw reminded us that he likes to shoot from distance whenever he gets the chance, but this one went narrowly wide of the post.

A few minutes later Tyler Roberts might have scored if he had reacted faster to a dangerous ball across the face of goal, but he didn’t manage to get a touch, so his critics on social media can keep on moaning. But we can’t blame him for being unable to reach any of the high balls that were sent into the area, being a little bit shorter than the Palace central defenders.

As we approached the interval Palace started to look a little bit more threatening on the break, and we were fortunate that one move ended with Zaha slipping when he could have played a dangerous ball through to Edouard, who was racing through unmarked on the right. They also had a shot from Schlupp that whistled just past the post.

The visitors had a shout for a penalty after Ayew went down after a challenge from Struijk, but it looked like the Palace man had just got his body between the defender and the ball and waited for the contact. He might have already been going down before the touch, and VAR must have checked it and decided there was nothing doing.

There was another moment of controversy as the match officials failed to notice Cooper giving Gallagher an arm across the throat, and as Leeds broke down the right Gallagher picked up a booking as he furiously ran back to foul Raphinha. This gave us a free kick from a promising position, but Raphinha sportingly sent it well over the bar. Though he might just have slipped as he took it.

Struijk picked up an injury just before the break, and although he hobbled on to half time he was replaced at the interval, and we held our breath as Firpo came on to take his place at left-back. Bielsa also replaced Klich with Rodrigo, after the Polish international had struggled to impose himself on the game.

Firpo got himself booked within a few minutes of coming onto the field, just like he did on Saturday. This time he was caught out of position after a run downfield and committed a sneaky trip on Zaha just outside the area as Palace broke away. This gave them a free kick in a dangerous position, but thankfully Conor Gallagher failed to get it over the wall, and Zaha sent the rebound well over.

As the game continued at a lively pace the booking count mounted, with Kevin Friend’s refereeing being a little over-zealous at times, finishing with six yellow cards in total. But this was never a dirty game, apart from a couple of disagreements between Zaha and Dallas.

Our best chance so far came when an excellent cross-field ball from Raphinha sent James down the wing, but when he pulled it across the face of goal, Rodrigo managed to put it wide from about six yards. Perhaps he was trying to take it round the keeper but was running in too hard to control it, but it looked a shocking miss, and right up until the 90th minute that was chewing me up, as I thought he'd missed our once chance to grab a vital win.

In the 67th minute Palace sent Benteke on to give themselves a bit more of a physical presence up front, and he would be involved in their best two chances of the game. He should have scored when a cross from Zaha found him unmarked just beyond the far post, but he put it wide. Perhaps Llorente managed to put him off by racing across at the last second.

But the big man did better a few minutes later, getting a late touch on the ball as Cooper tried to play it back to Meslier. That wrong-footed our keeper, and there was an agonising moment as the Frenchman fumbled his first attempt to grab hold of the ball, and I waited for goal-line technology to tell the ref it had crossed the line. But the replay showed that Meslier had finally stopped it with a couple of feet to spare, so I needn’t have worried.

As we came into the last few minutes Leeds forced a series of corners, with Rodrigo going close with a couple of flicks at the near post. And just after five minutes of injury time were announced, another corner saw Cooper send a header goalwards, which was stopped by the hand of Guehi, after the Palace defender had jumped with his arm upraised.

The Leeds players surrounded the referee after he had failed to spot it first time, but there were huge cheers as the man in the VAR studio asked him to go to the monitor to have a look. The spot-kick was duly awarded, but there was still the small matter of scoring from it. Raphinha stepped up with an awful lot riding on the penalty, but he coolly wrong-footed Guaita with a skip in his run-up, before sending it into the net.

There was even more time to be added on to allow for the time taken for the VAR check and the celebrations, and Bielsa decided to bolster the defence by sending Cresswell on for Roberts. But we managed to clear the high balls Palace sent into our box in the time that remained, and we hung on to the three vital points that have taken us to the dizzy heights of 15th in the table.

In truth, this was a game when a draw would have been a fairer outcome, and we picked up a better result due to the opposition's poor finishing, just like Saturday’s match against Palace’s pretend rivals from Brighton. But these things even themselves out, and we didn’t get the result our performance deserved against Spurs.

As everybody has noticed, we badly needed to pick up points against Palace and Brentford with the horrendous run of fixtures to follow, so at least we’ve got half of that job done. Now we just need to beat another bunch of London softies on Sunday to put a bit more space between ourselves and the bottom three before we have to play the big boys. MOT!


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