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Marsch hails Leeds fighting spirit after stunning comeback at Wolves
Sunday, 20th Mar 2022 22:18 by Tim Whelan

After Leeds came from behind to win an absolutely bonkers game with Wolverhampton Wanderers, our head coach paid tribute to his squad for continuing to believe in themselves despite coming in two goals down at half time.

Jesse Marsch told the official site “I think the best part of this one was we talked at half-time, we talked a little bit about tactics, but we talked more about not feeling sorry for ourselves. We talked about it being easy that after three injuries and a late goal in the half, to be down two-nil down and to be thinking it's not our day, and what are we going to do now”.

“I tried to encourage them to believe that if we had a good start to the game and if we could find the goal, that the momentum would change. With no subs left after the 50th minute, four injuries, for guys to dig in and push the game and stay tough to have young guys come on the pitch and deliver the performances like that, I think says a lot about the character that we have and they deserve all the credit”.

“But, I think it's also to do with, I'm learning more and more what the identity of Leeds United is and it's gritty, it's hard. It's about belief, it is about having a never saying die attitude. It's about giving everything you have to the match and I think these young men do that in a big way. What a result.”

Leeds wanted to build on the momentum generated by that win over Norwich, but this was always going to be a difficult fixture, with Wolves seventh in the table and needing the points themselves as they aim to qualify for European football next season. And before the start of the game the start it got even tougher, with the news that Raphinha would be missing after testing positive for Covid.

But Marsch is right that Leeds made a very bright start to the game. Rodrigo volleyed narrowly wide from a cross to the near post, and in fact got too firm a contact on the ball. There was plenty of pace on the cross, and a slight touch would have deflected the ball towards goal, so he didn’t need to go for the full-blooded shot.

Then Bamford went close after deceiving Sa by shaping up as if he was going for the far corner, only to drag his shot just wide of the near post. But shortly after that he landed awkwardly after chasing another through ball and had to limp off the field, and he seemed close to tears back on the bench, having to be consoled by Liam Cooper. This suggested it was a recurrence of the same injury that has kept him out, but hopefully his season isn’t over.

Had the change been needed later in the game Gelhardt might have come on, but Joffy had been struggling with a back problem and was deemed insufficiently fit to play more than half the game. So Bamford’s replacement was the Premier League’s only young striker called Greenwood who isn’t facing serious criminal charges.

A few minutes later Neves also had to b taken off. I thought that had evened things up, but in fact the Wolves substitute Trincao was to play a major part as the momentum of the game swung in the home side’s favour. He provided the assist for the opening goal as he got down the Wolves right and spotted Jonny completely unchallenged in the centre, creating an opportunity Jonny exploited by drilling the ball into the far corner of the net.

And well into first-half injury time Trincao took advantage of some very slack defending to get on the scoresheet himself. We were perhaps unlucky to concede the free-kick as Struijk accidentally caught the heel of Jiminez, but there was no excuse for what followed. We had a whole line of defenders who weren’t even looking when it was taken, then as it was played to Podence they all rushed back in a panic, leaving Trincao unmarked for the pull-back, which he was able to guide through Greenwood’s legs into the corner of the net.

Between these two goals Jimenez had missed an easier opportunity, chipping the ball well wide when put through with just Meslier to beat. And we had suffered two more injuries, as Llorente limped off to be replaced by Koch, and Klich suffered a nasty head injury. Phillips was on the bench but not yet fit enough for even half a game, so Cresswell came on, with Koch moving forward into midfield.

For the latter part of the half Wolves had been comfortably in control, and I thought this would be like our visits to Spurs, Chelsea and Leicester, when we had played well for at least part of the game but come away with nothing. But the head coach’s half time talk obviously had the desired effect, and we came out for the second half looking determined to get back into the match.

And it was the game’s most controversial incident that was to give us at least a foothold in the game. Ironically it came about through another poor piece of defending, as Jimenez was put through in a one-on-one with Meslier. But our young Frenchman bravely rushed off his line and got the ball fractionally before Jimenez, before being clattered as the Mexican ran into him at high speed.

As Jimenez had already been booked for a first half foul on Koch, I was of course praying for him to be sent off to give us our best chance of getting a result, but after seeing the replay I think it was harsh. He might have thought he was favourite to get to the ball only to find Meslier coming out faster than he expected. He didn’t intentionally foul our keeper, and if anything he was trying to pull out just before the collision.

Meslier had to come off, and we gave grateful thanks for the concussion substitute rule, which we had invoked when Klich came off. Otherwise we would have had no remaining changes available, so we would have had to play the rest of the game with an outfield player in goal and the numbers still even at ten aside.

For all Wolves’ complaining about the sending off, they should still have been able to see the game out, with a two-nil lead to hang on to. But instead they panicked as we put them under pressure, pressing the self-destruct button with some absolutely catastrophic defending. Have they been spying on us?

Just to add to the bizarre nature of the evening, at around this time we had a failed attempt to disrupt the game by one of those ‘stop oil’ protesters, another weird looking bloke who was stopped himself by the stewards who were expecting another attempt to invade the pitch at a live TV game. Like a latter-day Bielsa, their tactics are getting a bit too predictable.

So the players were free to continue, and Ayling got free on the right to send a fierce shot crashing against the far post. It bounced back for him to have another go, which was cleared off the line, but only as far as Harrison, who hammed the ball into the net from close range. As usual James was in an offside position, but thankfully was deemed not to be interfering with play as the shot whizzed past him.

A few minutes later Dallas was taken out by a naughty challenge, and in the midst of the moaning from Wolves about the red card they did get, they can count themselves lucky that the VAR man decided to let that one pass. But while Dallas was on the floor, the rest of the team got on with the business of scoring the equaliser.

Ayling’s cross from the right picked out James, and when his lob over the keeper came back off the post, Sa was able to block the Welshman’s second shot and it seemed the chance had gone. But a defender made a hash of clearing the bouncing ball in his attempt to clear, allowing Greenwood to knock the ball to Rodrigo. And as Sa dashed madly off his line Rodrigo took it round him and though a defender got a touch of the ball on the line, there was too much power on the shot to keep it out.

Cue for pandemonium in the Leeds section of the crowd, who surged forward as Rodrigo hurdled a barrier to celebrate right in front of them. But after this hectic couple of minutes Wolves seemed to have established a bit of control once again, and our substitute keeper Klaesson had to make a couple of excellent saves, with young Creswell also looking immense at the back. He’s certainly well built for a teenager.

There had always been an edge to the game, and tempers boiled over following a hefty challenge on Harrison near the touchline. There was a full-on row between the two benches, with Phillips prominent among those determined to have their say. Jesse Marsch played the role of peacemaker, telling his players to move away, but another member of our coaching staff got a yellow card.

For all Creswell’s excellent work at the back I was cursing him when he had a free header at the other end of the field, failing to get off the floor as the ball arrived, so he got underneath it and sent the ball just over the bar. I thought that might have been our big chance to win the game, but then eight minutes of stoppage time were announced.

And in the first of those minutes, Harrison sent a free-kick beyond the far post, which Ayling headed back across the face of goal. And after Struijk battled for the loose ball it came back to Ayling, who took it past a defender with one touch and smashed it through Sa’s legs with the second. His dodgy attempt at a cartwheel didn’t match the quality of his finish, but was the start of another riotous celebration, with a couple of substitutes booked for running right across the field to join in.

We still had some stout defending to do, but Wolves couldn’t grab an equaliser, and we held on for three vital points that had looked most unlikely earlier in the proceedings. Wolves will say that the sending off was the turning point, but we’d had to cope with some bad luck as well. Not only did our best player miss the game with Covid, but we had those four injuries once it began, to say nothing of Phillips and Cooper being yet to complete their recoveries.

It just shows the quality of the young players that we have to fill some of the holes when need be, but the fortnight’s break before the next game will give the injured players a chance to recover. And as Jesse Marsch says, the spirit in the camp is such that whichever eleven players we can put out on the field at any one time, they will certainly be giving their all for the cause.

“I just want us to stay true and stay calm to our process to pushing ourselves every day, to growing and getting better, to finding a way to control what we can control. If we do that, I believe we have the quality of people and of players that we can control our own destiny and find a way to not just survive the situation, but thrive in it, that's the goal.”


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