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Leeds United 3 v 1 Leicester City
SkyBet Championship
Friday, 23rd February 2024 Kick-off 20:00
Farke pays tribute to the fans after one of the great nights at Elland Road
Sunday, 25th Feb 2024 10:56 by Tim Whelan

For a long time in the second half it seemed certain that Leicester City would stretch their lead at the top of the Championship, but once we’d got back on level terms the fans took over and roared our team to a vital win.

And when our manager had had time to draw breath and talk to LUTV after the game he said “A proper party in the stadium. Everyone told me there was another gear, and I thought today would be a good day to find this other gear. It was crazy, buzzing. In the end we deserved it over 90 minutes. It will be a proper weekend for our supporters.”

"A great evening for everyone connected to Leeds United. There are many record-breaking statistics but the feeling is more important. You could feel how much it meant to everyone. I'm happy for our supporters to enjoy these moments with our fans. We fought our way back into it in the last 15-20 minutes. They were all goals of will and fighting spirit.”

And Leicester boss Enzo Maresca had to admit “In the last 10 minutes, mentally they are better than us. Leeds wanted it more”. Which rather ties in with his pre-match comments that this game was vital for Leeds but just another game for his side when they were so far in front. How does he feel now that their lead has been cut to six points?

Daniel Farke once again named the same starting eleven as the previous game, but one change I would have made would have been to bring Conor Roberts in at right back, while moving Archie Gray to midfield. Gray has done well at right back against the average to poor sides in this division, but against the league leaders I thought we would need a specialist in that position.

And as the game began it seemed Leicester had the same view, as they directed most of their attacks down that side of the field. But in retrospect it might have been a cunning ploy from Farke to keep the ball away from Firpo, who was the full-back who looked more vulnerable whenever he was called on to defend.

And Gray’s movement down the right played a part in the move that led to our first chance, when his ball from the wing was flicked on by Gnonto into the path of Piroe, but the Dutchman got underneath the shot and sent it well over the bar. The South Stand end of the ground was to see some pretty poor finishing in both halves of the game.

And Leicester’s first move also came down that side of the field, ending with a shot from Patson Daka that Meslier did well to tip over the bar. At the resulting corner we bizarrely had Gnonto marking Faes, and if the height difference wasn’t bad enough, Willy stopped altogether when the ball was flicked on, leaving the Belgian free to nod the ball into the net. I thought Mesiler might have got close to the ball if he’d flung himself across the goal, but he didn’t.

Our best two chances in the remainder of the first half we spoilt by our wingers taking a heavy touch and giving the Leicester defenders the extra second they needed to get a block in. First Gnonto when he checked inside rather than shooting first time with his right foot, then Summerville after he was put through in a promising position on the left.

Daniel Farke was to say afterwards that we were unlucky to be behind at the break, and we might have thought that Leeds would come out fired up for the second half, but not a bit of it. Leicester seemed to take control of the game completely, looking well organised at the back and carrying the greater threat going forward.

Stephy Mavididi cut in from the left Meslier did very well to push his shot round the post, but then came the most controversial moment of the game. Vestergaard sent the ball crashing against the bar from a corner and Daka turned it into the net, only for the goal to be ruled out. Yet he wasn’t in an offside position when the original header was made and the ball had then come back off Rutter to get to him.

It's one of those that’s difficult for the linesman to judge in real time, but VAR would have gobbled it up. And we might have to admit that Leicester would have gone on to win the game if the goal had stood, as the whole mood in the stadium would have been different. Even as it was, the Leicester fans wanted to know "where’s your famous atmosphere ", and a comeback looked very unlikely.

I thought that all hope of winning the title had gone with Leicester apparently on their way to a 12 point lead, and the best we could hope for was to scrape an equaliser before the end. And they really should have sealed the game when Daka and Mavididi missed appallingly on the break, and both were substituted soon afterwards.

By then Daniel Farke had also removed the players who had missed the best chances, with Gnonto and Piroe making way for James and Bamford, the latter deemed to have been not quite fit enough to start on his comeback from his latest injury. And I finally got my wish to see Roberts on the field, though it was Firpo who made way, with Gray becoming the umpteenth player to fill in at left back for us this season.

And all three of our substitutes would play their part in what happened next, but most of the credit must go to Rutter, who kept driving forwards, no matter how many men Leicester tried to put in his way to stop him. On 80 minutes I was cursing him for running into a blind alley, but they had so many defenders around him there had no one spare when the ball broke towards Roberts, who was free to lash the ball into the far corner for his first Leeds goal.

And it took only three minutes for Leeds to go in front, with Rutter making his way across the edge of the area before picking out Gray coming forward on the left with a clever pass. Archie shot took one deflection before a deflection off the unfortunate Faes left Hermansen with no chance. Cue riotous celebrations in the corner between the West Stand and the Kop and the cameras picking out a very proud great-uncle Eddie in the stands.

What a pity that it goes down as an own goal because the first deflection would have taken the ball wide. But even though we’d got ourselves in front, I thought was still anxious that Leicester might come back at us, with at least ten minutes play remaining, including injury time. They did manage to win a couple of free kicks high up the pitch, but our defence managed to win the headers when the ball came in, and scramble the ball away.

And if our comeback hadn’t been unlikely enough already, a true miracle occurred as we finally scored from a free kick for the first time this season. It was down to that man Rutter again, forcing a desperate foul just outside the area from one of his surging runs through the middle. James took it, though his shot went in via a deliberate deflection off Bamford’s knee and Hermansen’s failed attempt to keep it out as it bounced into the roof of the net.

That finally sealed it, and the celebrations at the final whistle to the tune of ‘I predict a riot’ have gone viral, and even made the website of the NME! If there were one or two sore heads in Leeds on Saturday morning there was even more cause to celebrate when Southampton went down to their third defeat in four games, with none of them being in games when you would expect them to drop points.

Ipswich eventually managed to overcome Birmingham, but you can’t have everything. Is the title race back on now? Possibly, and getting the gap down to six points has given us another option for securing automatic promotion. There could be more special days and nights at Elland Road before this season is done.


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