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Leeds United 2 v 1 Preston North End
SkyBet Championship
Sunday, 21st January 2024 Kick-off 12:00
Leeds snatch victory over Preston with late penalty
Sunday, 21st Jan 2024 20:24 by Tim Whelan

e urgently needed a win after Southampton’s victory yesterday, but made hard work of beating a determined Preston North End, missing a number of chances as we piled on the pressure in the second half. But right at they handed us the chance to win the game with a late penalty, which Piroe converted to ensure we took all three points.

There were no changes to the starting line-up, but it might be significant that Gnonto wasn’t among the subs, given the stories that a number of clubs are interested in signing him during the current transfer window. In contrast, a sickness bug forced the visitors to make four changes, which denied us the chance to give some well-deserved abuse to Osmajic, the player who got Meslier sent off at Deepdale.

But even though they came to Elland Road with a depleted squad, Preston started the game on the front, as if they fancied their chances of being the first away side to win at Elland Road this season. Their first move downfield was interrupted when Rodon pulled his opponent back, and it was fortunate that he escaped an early booking, as life could have been difficult if he’d had to play for almost the whole game on a yellow card.

But Preston inflicted a different kind of punishment, after the free kick was sent beyond the far post and was headed back across goal. A miskick ran through to Miller, and when his shot was deflected Keane was the quickest to react, and having been given far too much space by our defence he completed the task of knocking the ball in from close range. But they were to hold the lead for only four minutes.

I thought Summerville had overhit a ball down the left to Firpo, but the Portuguese managed to catch it before it crossed the goal-line, and send a first time cross to the far post. And while the defence was focused on Bamford, Dan James was running in to meet it, and scored with a firm downward header that just evaded Cornell’s attempts to save with his legs. This is the fourth time this season that Leeds have conceded and then equalised before ten minutes were up.

Despite this setback Preston were still keen to attack when they got the chance, and they came close to regaining the lead on the break. A ball out to the left found Miller in plenty of space, but although his shot was well-struck Meslier was able to get across to make the save. I thought that if they kept attacking it would leave space for us to get in behind them, but from that point on they began to retreat and let us have most of the possession.

I got excited when Firpo stepped up to take a free kick in a position that favoured the left footer. Was he a new secret weapon who had been firing them in in training. Sadly not, as he casually sent it high and wide, to add to this season’s montage of terrible free kicks. He’s not going to be the next Ian Harte after all.

Another chance came and went when James got to the byline and crossed for Bamford, but although his header was on target it lacked the power to trouble Cornell. Next up was Rutter, who did well to find space as a corner came over, but didn’t jump high enough to control his header, and sent it over the bar.

And there was the first of a couple of dodgy moments for the Preston keeper when a back-header sold him a little short. The ball bounced onto Bamford, but he didn’t quite have space to control it, and the ball went behind for a goal kick. So we went in level at half time, in what had been a fairly even contest, though Leeds were creating the better chances.

And we stepped up a gear early in the second half. Cornell was caught out by the pace of James as he raced out of his area, but a defender was quick to react and got back in time to block the shot after the ball was played to Bamford. A few minutes later the ball was again played to James with the keeper off his line, and the chip he attempted was the right idea, but the ball landed on the roof of the net.

Then Summerville went past three defenders right on the byline and cut the ball back for Rutter, but the Frenchman couldn’t quite adjust his foot in time to sidefoot the ball home, and it went over the bar off his shin. Rutter was almost the provider himself a few minutes later after Cornell dropped his cross, but the keeper just managed to grab the ball as Bamford tried to take advantage of his error.

In the middle period of the second half Preston began to enjoy a bit more possession, but although they forced a number of corners they created no decent chances as a result. But Farke sensed he needed a bit more fire-power to force the win we needed to stay in touch with the top two, and on 77 minutes Piroe came on for Kamara, with Byram also replacing Firpo.

Preston countered by making a couple of defensive subs, but it didn’t do them much good in the end, as one of them was responsible for the game’s decisive moment right at the end. That was after they resorted to increasingly desperate fouling tactics to try to hang on, racking up a total of six bookings as the game got rather heated.

As we moved towards injury time we seemed to be heading for a frustrating draw, but six additional minutes were announced. And after three of them Preston substitute Ledson sliced an attempted clearance up in the air, and then compounded his error by putting his arms out wide before the ball came back off Rodon and hit him. Preston boss Ryan Lowe would moan about the penalty decision later on TV, but the replay showed Ledson’s arm moving towards the ball as it arrived.

Bamford scared us by indicating that he was stepping up for the spot kick, but there were cheers when Piroe pulled rank and said that as the designated penalty taker he was having this one. The Dutchman cooly stepped up and rolled the ball into the net, but Cornell would have saved it if he had gone the right way. Not that that mattered to the players who rushed over to the corner to celebrate as some of the fans knocked a barrier down in their efforts to join them.

Most of Elland Road erupted with the relief that we had snatched a win after all, but there were still a few more minutes for us to hold out. Cooper was brought on for Summerville to protect the lead, but there was more time added for the sub, plus at least a minute for the length of the goal celebration. The pointless sub of Joseph for Rutter on 97 minutes might have been a record, as it came after the original period of injury time had elapsed!

We still had one free kick to survive, but managed to clear it, and finally the game was at an end, with a win that takes us to within four points of the top two as it stands. Afterwards Farke was asked what result he would like tomorrow night, but he declined to say. I think a Leicester win over Ipswich would serve us best, as they’re probably to far ahead to worry about, but second place at the end of the season will do me fine.

But of course it doesn't matter what happens in the other games, as we need to pick up points in our own games even if other clubs do us the occasional favour. And if we can show the same spirit we showed today right till the end of the game, we ought to be in contention at the end of the season.


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