Marsch praises the spirit of the squad after vital win at Watford
Sunday, 10th Apr 2022 22:50 by Tim Whelan
Leeds had to overcome some early Watford pressure in this proverbial relegation six pointer, but in the end our determination took us a crucial victory, and we might well look back at this weekend as the one when we finally secured another season in the Premier League.
In the post-match press conference Jesse Marsch said "I'm really excited that we were able to, in a tough moment and in a really important game, emerge. The points are massive for us and there's confidence and momentum in the group. In six weeks we can see the form of many players and the overall mentality of the group has grown so much. That's really helped us get to where we are right now.”
"I've been saying it from day one I think that the group's mentality to work and learn every day what we're trying to achieve has been fantastic. I know I can draw from their mentality, their inspiration, their belief in each other. Even when the game's not exactly what we want, now we're able to do certain things effectively and fighting in the match is incredibly important. I really like this group, they give everything they have. It fits with who I am and with what we're trying to establish together"
And the head coach singled Liam Cooper out for special praise. "He won his duels, his aerials, he was aggressive against the ball, didn't lose any balls, he was fantastic. I had him speak to the team afterwards, I haven't had a better captain in the entire time I've been a coach. He was great, he almost came to tears, he loves playing with the guys so much.”
Cooper has certainly had his critics among the Leeds fanbase for some of the errors he has made at the back, but I’m told we benefit from his more vocal nature compared to the quiet pairing of Struijk and Llorente, and his ability to organise the defence. If he hadn’t missed so much of the season through injury we might not have suffered as many tonkings as we have had.
And the defence certainly had to stand firm during the difficult moments we had during this game, the first of which came from a free kick given away in a dangerous position by Klich. Though most Leeds fans were amused by Klich’s dismissive response to his Twitter critic ‘Bob’, I actually thought Bob had a point, as Klich’s tackling can indeed be a liability when he is drawn into a deep midfield role.
Thankfully Louza sent the free kick just beyond the angle of post and bar, and a few minutes later Meslier had to get his fingertips to the ball to turn another free kick round the post. But after weathering the early storm, Leeds took the lead in the 21st. minute. Watford failed to clear after James played the ball into the area with an overhead flick, and Raphinha took full advantage with a powerful shot that went in off the post.
But Watford continued to have much of the play for the rest of the first half, and when Leeds tried to seize the initiative in the early stages of the second a lot of our moves broke down as we struggled to string our passes together. Watford really should have grabbed the equaliser when Pedro sent Sarr clean through on goal, but thankfully the striker blazed his shot over the bar.
And with 17 minutes remaining Watford’s failings at the other end presented Leeds with the decisive second goal. Greenwood’s ball to Rodrigo was slightly overhit, but two Watford defenders made a complete hash of dealing with it, allowing Rodrigo to round Foster and put Leeds two up, despite the keeper’s attempts to get a handful of his shirt as he went by. The goal capped a fine performance from the Spaniard, who has been in excellent form since Marsch took over.
And Greenwood could also claim the assist for the third Leeds goal. This time his through ball was to Harrison, who scored with a fierce shot across Foster into the far corner of the net, to spark riotous celebrations celebrations in the Leeds section of the crowd and the customary social media pictures of fans falling over the seats after the goal.
And so a game which started with some anxiety after Everton’s lunchtime win over Man U ended with our Premier League future looking far more secure. It was a bit premature of Gary Lineker to say on match of the day that the win guarantees our survival, even though we can now be pretty sure of finishing above Watford, as the third relegation spot is still up for grabs.
As Marsch acknowledged, while urging his squad to concentrate on the things they are able to affect. "Everyone is getting results around us. Especially with the 16-day break now it would have been really difficult to sit and watch the table because things are going to get tight. We just have to stay focused on us. That's the most important thing.”
And he knows there are still some improvements for his team to make. "I want us to play better, be more confident on the ball, some of the combinations and ideas I want to get better in those areas. We need more moments where we press, win balls and calmly, cleanly find actions that lead to big chances, like Jack Harrison's goal”.
But it’s clear that the players have warmed to him and like his approach, and that one or two of their number are flourishing now that he has arrived. We can all breathe a lot easier after Burnley’s defeat at Norwich today, and it was good to see our old boy Charlie Taylor playing Pukki onside for Norwich's second goal, especially after San Byram's error had started that move that nearly ended in a Burnley equaliser.
Incredibly Burnley have another three games to play before we are next in action. Our position will be a lot clearer once they have used up their games in hand, but although we still need a few more points to be safe, we can surely start to look forward to watching Leeds in the Premier League in 2022/3.
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