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Leeds come back to take a point from classic encounter
Thursday, 10th Feb 2022 21:40 by Tim Whelan

After a great start to the game we fell 3-1 behind, with Aston Villa cutting through our defence all too easily. But the fightback began on the stroke of half time, and we certainly deserved to get at least the draw we got from this game.

Even though two and a half weeks had passed since the last game we named a starting eleven that was unchanged from the side that began the game against Newcastle. With no new signings nor any key players yet back from injury, we were up against a side who had been strengthened by signing Coutinho on loan during the transfer window.

And this was starting to bother me at the start of the game with Villa seeming to enjoy most of the possession, with Meslier having to make the first save, turning a shot round the post following a corner. But that was before we swept upfield to open the scoring in the 9th minute.

Rodrigo was alert enough to dispossess Mings on the edge of the area and played it forward to James, who then turned and shot through a Konsa’s legs into the far corner. Not a great start to the evening for Konsa, and the end wasn’t going to be that great for him either!

Tyrone Mings was also having a difficult game, following his mistake at one end by wasting an excellent chance for an equaliser by heading wide from close range at the other, when Leeds again struggled to defend from a corner. With this being right in front of the Leeds fans, he started to cop for a lot of abuse from the away section, as we adapted the song we usually devote to Sky TV.

Leeds began to grow in confidence and look the more menacing side going forward, with Rodrigo playing some intelligent passes and James confounding all those who said he wouldn’t make a centre forward. That would be me, then. The only disappointment was Raphinha who seemed to be struggling, perhaps due to a combination of his long journey to play for his country, getting married, and someone in the crowd shining a laser into his eyes.

We were inches away from going two in front as Harrison jinked down the left and played it inside to James, who hit a fierce shot that came crashing back off the bar with Martinez well beaten. Had that gone in Leeds could well have gone on to win the game, but less than a minute later Villa were level. A cross from the right found Coutinho with his back to goal, but he turned and shot past Llorente into the far corner.

And as we kept pressing forward to try to regain the lead we left ourselves open at the back, which Villa twice managed to exploit with their ability to break before we could get back in numbers. They had Watkins to pull our man-marking defence out of position, young Ramsey to make intelligent runs from midfield and Coutinho to pick him out with his vision and accurate long-range passes.

On 38 minutes Coutinho turned inside his own half, and curled a ball past three defenders into Ramsey’s path. Ramsey slowed as he came into the box and allowed Klich to get level with him, but this was just to steady himself and he sent his shot into the net off Meslier’s foot. And the same two players combined again five minutes later, with Coutinho spotting Ramsey’s late run, and Ramsey hammering the ball into the roof of the net from twelve yards out.

This finally woke the Villa fans up and they chanted “who are yer?”, which seemed a little bit odd when the Leeds fans had been making almost all the noise up to that point. They also seemed to think that Leeds were falling apart again, but we proved otherwise by pulling one back on the stroke of half time.

A long ball from Llorente found Klich on the left of the Villa box, and his backheel sent Rodrigo towards the byline. Rodrigo’s ball across the face of goal bounced up off a defender, and James’ determination took him between two taller Villa players to get his head to the ball, and it had crossed the line before Martinez was able to palm it clear.

Inevitably the second half didn’t manage to match the pace and intensity of the first, and that was partly because Gerrard told his players to slow things down a little rather than trying to compete with us in chasing all over the pitch. Even so, they seemed to be struggling to last the pace, with a couple of their players going down with cramp before the end of the game.

But we had to keep going in search of an equaliser, and we finally managed to grab one after forcing a couple of corners just after the hour mark. From the first a Struijk header was cleared off the line by Mings, legally as it turned out, with VAR confirming that it had come off his head and the top of his shoulder.

But a few minutes later we had better luck when another Struijk header was cleared, with the ball falling to Llorente and the Spaniard showing a striker’s instinct to hammer the ball into the net. He certainly knows what to do when the ball drops to his feet, as he showed with his goal against Watford earlier in the season, so could we try him at centre forward once all the other defenders are fit again?

The goal sparked rapturous celebrations in the Leeds section, with at least one fan falling over the perimeter boards, and we followed this up with a sarcastic version of the “Leeds are falling apart again” chant. We kept pressing forwards and the ball fell kindly for Klich to shoot from the edge of the box, but uncharacteristically he failed to get much power behind it and Martinez ended up with a comfortable save.

Bielsa didn’t make his first change until the 85th minute, with Forshaw coming on to replace Klich, perhaps to shore things up a little. But shortly afterwards we were presented with an opportunity to go on and win the game, as Konsa collected a second yellow by putting his elbow into Meslier’s face to prevent our keeper releasing the ball quickly for a break downfield.

With Villa a man down I would have thought that Gelhardt was the ideal player to bring on against a tiring defence, but instead Bielsa seemed about to bring Roberts on for James. James must have read all the comments about Roberts on social media, as he seemed to angrily move away and pretend not to notice, while Bielsa was persuaded to change his mind. We wait to see if there will be any repercussions from that incident.

When 8 minutes injury time were announced after all the stoppages we sensed an opportunity to grab all three points, but Villa held on through the closing stages and we had to make do with just the one. These are still worrying times, with several teams below us picking up points and showing signs of improvement, and the trip to Everton on Saturday is starting to look quite important.

But if we can play as well as we did for most of this game then we should be clear of trouble by the end of the season.


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