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Plymouth Argyle 0 v 2 Leeds United
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 17th February 2024 Kick-off 12:30
Leeds extend the winning run at Home Park
Saturday, 17th Feb 2024 18:09 by Tim Whelan

Leeds had to work hard to secure the win over Plymouth Argyle and become the first team since October to beat them on their own ground. But in the end one goal in each half was enough to ensure that we finished the weekend in second place in the table.

After the news that Patrick Bamford’s injury will keep him out for the next 10 days, it was no surprise that Daniel Farke named an unchanged side after the win at Swansea in midweek, with Gnonto rewarded for his recent good form even though Dan James was back to full fitness. Piroe started the match as the centre forward, but was to revert to his former deeper role as the game progressed.

Once again Leeds started the brighter of the two sides, and in the first few minutes Summerville and the linesman were to spare each other’s blushes. The linesman incorrectly flagged as the ball was played to Kamara, as a defender on the far side should have played him on, but it didn’t matter anyway as the move ended with Summerville shooting wide from close range.

But it took only ten minutes before Leeds did get the ball in the net, and from a legitimate move. Rutter collected the ball in a crowded area of the field on the left and spotted Gnonto in acres of space on the right side of midfield, and sent a high ball across the field towards him. This was unkindly described as a ‘hit and hope’ on Sky, which I thought was nonsense, as it went straight to it’s intended target.

Gnonto took the ball past Gibson as he took it down, before turning to send it past Hazard and in off the far post. Leeds would continue to dominate possession for the rest of the first half, but found it hard to create further clear-cut chances against a defence who were quick to close our key players down. And I thought Rutter was a little bit too casual a couple of times as he dallied on the ball too long or flicked it on without looking to see what pass was available.

And Argyle did have a few moments coming forward, with Gnonto having to race back to make a couple of last-ditch interventions on our right as Gray got sucked into midfield. At the other end Piroe played the ball forward to Rutter, who twisted past a defender before his shot took a slight deflection and looped up onto the far post. It’s possible that the deflection didn’t change the direction of the ball and it wouldn’t have gone in anyway.

And just before half time a firm Gnonto cross saw a defender hammer the ball into the roof of his own net, which would have been hilarious if the Italian hadn’t already been flagged for offside. It had been yet another half when we should have had more than the one goal from the amount of possession we had, which meant we still had a lot to do to seal the win.

In all three of our previous meetings this season Argyle had scored to get back into the game after being behind, and inevitably this resilient side made us wonder if we would regret that we hadn’t taken our earlier opportunities. The home side had much the better of the early stages of the second period, forcing a number corners as they put us under pressure.

The closest they came was a ball whipped across the face of goal by Miller which needed just a touch, but Waine narrowly failed to provide it. And as the wind got up there was also a cross that was actually on target until Meslier rather uncertainly beat away, before doing a bit better to grab a swirling ball as it was sent back into the box.

But Leeds gradually began to reassert control, and went close after a long ball out down the field from Meslier found Rutter over by the left touchline. He played it inside for Summerville to try his trademark swerve past a couple of defenders for a right foot shot from around the penalty spot. But this time he was leaning back and sent the ball over the bar.

And we finally scored the second goal in the 72nd minute after Piroe played a diagonal through ball to Rutter. As he took the ball forward I expected him to slip it to Summerville, who was racing through unchallenged to his left. But he decided to have the shot himself, and struck the ball powerfully through the legs of both Phillips and then the unsighted Hazard.

I thought Farke might have made some changes earlier to shore things up at the back, but with a two goal lead to protect he now put Roberts on for Summerville and moved Gray into midfield, while James also came on to give Gnonto a break. There was still time for Argyle to pull a goal back and make the closing stages interesting, as they had done in the game at Elland Road.

Which they might have done from a free kick on their right which they set up for a cross into the area, only for Whittaker to try to deceive Meslier with a shot on goal. Our noble keeper had to unconvincingly shovel the ball away from goal, fortunately into an area where there were no Argyle players on hand to take advantage. And the final chance of the game came from a free kick of our own.

James tussled with a defender on his way into the box, and must have deserved marks for artistic merit for his acrobatic fall inside the box, but his only reward was a free kick just outside the area. And it was the closest we’ve come from a free kick all season, but didn’t quite dip enough as it hit the bar on the way down. How typical that we finally discover a set piece taker just as he’s no longer being selected in the starting eleven.

As we went into injury time there were cameos off the bench for young Gelhardt and Joseph, as Rutter and Piroe took their leave, before the final whistle meant that our series of long distance away games had finally come to an end. After the game Daniel Farke told BBC Sport "I am a happy man first of all because no other side since October has managed to come away from here with three points.

“We got a really good start with the goal early on because Plymouth are a good side and hard to beat, especially in home games, so it was a very good opening 10 to 15 minutes for us. We stayed focused throughout and scored a really good second goal and I think in the last minute it should have been a penalty and not a free kick so it could have been three. Overall I am really pleased with the maturity we showed to win this game."

With Southampton’s victory on Friday night and Ipswich winning at Swansea today, this programme of matches ended with no change in the relentless competition for second place. But the biggest surprise of the weekend was Leicester’s home defeat at the hands of Middlesbrough, which narrows their lead at the top to nine points.

And if we can beat them on Friday night that would come down to six, so suddenly they are starting to look a bit vulnerable. This is all getting very interesting, so watch this space!

Photo: Action Images

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