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Leeds United 3 v 0 Watford
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 23rd September 2023 Kick-off 15:00
Rutter shines as Leeds outclass Watford
Sunday, 24th Sep 2023 19:09 by Tim Whelan

Leeds produced the best display we’ve seen for a good while at Elland Road and Watford had no answer to the pace and movement we showed every time we came forward. There were many fine performances, but Rutter was the one who stood out, and he is finally starting to justify his huge price tag.

Daniel Farke made four changes to his starting line-up, with two of them enforced due to Gnonto’s injury and Rodon’s suspension. Our club captain was back in defence alongside Struijk, and although this disturbed the left-footed/right-footed pairing we prefer in central defence, his presence allowed Ayling to be given a break, with Shackleton taking over duties at right back.

Archie Gray was also rested, allowing Kamara to make his full Leeds debut, and Summerville started on the left. Despite the changes in personnel the players are showing all the signs of getting to know each other’s game by now, and we totally dominated the play from the start. The defence were hardly troubled, as Ampidu and Kamara broke up any Watford attempts to get anywhere near our goal, and their excellent distribution ensured that the visitors got little respite.

Watford were reduced to looking distinctly average at best, and their only player to emerge with any credit was their goalkeeper Bachmann, as without him we could well have scored six or even seven. His first excellent save came very early, as he got down very smartly to turn a fierce shot from Ampadu round the post.

Dan James was seeing plenty of the ball on the right, as just when the two guys behind me agreed that he rarely produces any end product, he sent in an excellent inswinging cross to Rutter on the six yard line, but Bachmann came out to him very quickly, and reacted in time to stop Rutter’s attempt to flick the ball past him.

And when Rutter did have the ball in the net after Summerville had picked him out, he was clearly a couple of yards offside, so it was chalked off. Then Summerville danced through the Watford defence to create a chance for himself, but tried a clever flick with the outside of his foot rather than putting his laces through it, so the shot lacked the power it needed to get past Bachmann.

As half time approached we started to get irritated by the referee’s reluctance to penalise Watford for possible fouls, on Summerville just outside the area and James inside the box. On both occasions Jeremy Simpson thought our players had gone down a little too easily, drawing the ire of Daniel Farke on the touchline, followed by the traditional booing from the crowd as the officials went down the tunnel at half time.

And the frustration around Elland Road started to grow around Elland Road as the second half began, with the crowd starting to get a bit quiet and the Watford fans (who couldn’t sell all their tickets) wanting to know “where’s your famous atmosphere”? We were starting to wonder if this was going to be a repeat of the Wednesday game, when we dominated possession but just couldn’t find the killer touch.

But that was before we finally got the breakthrough in the 67th minute, with the move set up by Rutter’s trickery in midfield, as he outwitted a couple of defenders to set James down the wing. And as the Welshman’s deep cross arrived at the far post Piroe had timed his late run perfectly to get on the end of it and steer the ball into the net.

I had to check there was no linesman’s flag before I could start celebrating, and Bachmann also thought it might have been offside as he raced out to question the official, getting booked for his trouble. But after carefully studying the replay much later on TV (my personal VAR consisting of trying to stop the recording at the right second) I concluded that he had been behind the defender when the ball was played, so the decision to allow the goal was perfectly correct.

And just like the buses, having waited ages for one goal, two came along at once, the second from a most unlikely source. A corner from James was met with a powerful header from Sam Byram, straight into the back of the net. I was wondering what he was even doing going up for a corner, but Google tells me he is actually 5ft 11. Though it doesn’t matter how tall you are if the opposition leave you completely unmarked anyway.

Even then Watford could have found a way back into the game with their first decent attack, but Asprilla shot wide from a good position. The sages behind me thought that we would have conceded if we’d given the opposition that much space in the Premier League, and that time they were probably right.

But Farke thought we were sufficiently in control to start resting a couple of players, so at various times during the last ten minutes Anthony, Gray, Poveda and Gruev came on, with Piroe, Kamara, Summerville and Shackleton making way. Anthony in particular was keen to show what he can do, and a great run took him into the box for what would have been a classic goal if that man Bachmann hadn’t produced yet another fine save.

But he wouldn’t be denied a goal on his home debut, and after Rutter had again showed great skill to surge through the Watford defence, he was able to slot the ball past the keeper to seal the victory. As time ran out there was a bit of showboating by Rutter with the crowd lapping it up, but at the other end Meslier was finally called on to make a save to preserve our fourth consecutive clean sheet.

And once the final whistle had put Watford out of their misery and the players had taken in the deserved applause from the crowd, we could celebrate a jump up the table into the play-off positions, 6th after Hull’s win today. The only problem is the eight point gap below the automatic promotion spots thanks to the annoying consistency of the top two, but if we can keep on playing like this we surely can’t be far away by the end of the season.

Photo: Action Images

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