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Farke praises team spirit as Leeds battle back for a point at Watford
Sunday, 31st Mar 2024 17:17 by Tim Whelan

This could have been another of those disappointing away defeats, but Leeds have been made of sterner stuff since January, and the depth of the squad proved to be crucial as Matteo Joseph came off the bench to score the equaliser at Watford.

This was only the second time we failed to win a league game in 2024, the other being at Huddersfield. Both looked like a poor result on the face of it, but the circumstances were similar, a game that would have been easier a couple of weeks before, but a different prospect against a team with a new manager to impress.

After the game Daniel Farke had this to say to BBC Sport. "I will take this point all day long. I am really happy and proud of the boys. We played this game at the worst possible moment. Watford, they have a new manager and there is new belief, he knows the players inside out and they were unleashed and had a great start”.

"We had the worst possible international break. For us three players came back injured and three Welsh players had the disappointment of not being allowed to go to the Euros. We had not one first team training session as a team. We had to play this game by just pressing a button and we were not at our best rhythm. Then to play such a second half, I'm pretty happy with the outcome."

Ah yes, that international break. Gruev and Gnonto are likely to be out for a couple of weeks, and Firpo was left on the bench after his exhausting flight back from his trip to play for the Dominican Republic. In Gruev’s absence Ampadu moved back to midfield, with Cooper returning to the central defensive spot behind him.

It had already been a day when the automatic promotion contenders had had the gremlins in, with Leicester and Southampton dropping points and Ipswich’s win owing much to a goalkeeping howler by the opposition. And our lacklustre first half showing suggested that the nerves might be getting to us as well, even though our injury issues could well have played a part.

Watford had most of the possession in the opening half hour, though we could have scored against the run of play when Summerville cut inside to shoot. It looked like a routine save for Bachmann, but he must have seen it late as he only just reacted in time to push the ball round the post.

And there was an anxious moment at the other end when there was a coming together between Ampadu and Asprilla, but thankfully the referee waved play on. If we’d had VAR it would probably have been a penalty as it was one of those that looked worse in slow motion, but in fact Asprilla had put his foot in front of the ball just when Ampadu was about to kick it.

However, in the 31st minute we weren’t so fortunate as Mr. Webb again decided to let the game flow. I thought Byram had been fouled as he was dispossessed well inside Watford’s half, but they were allowed to break with Asprilla on the left. He pulled the ball back to Dennis, who had been allowed far too much room in the centre. Meslier made a fine save, but was left powerless when the ball came back to Bayo.

Soon afterwards Rodon made a great interception just as Watford seemed likely to go two in front, so Leeds were able to get back into the game with another wonderful Summerville goal in the 37th minute. With defences getting wise to his trademark cut inside he took the shot early this time, and Watford hadn’t got set to block it as it curled inside the far post.

But that wasn’t the end of the scoring for the first half, and the home side got back in front just before the break. Dennis cut in from the right and confused Cooper with a couple of step-overs to make space, before curling the ball round Rodon into the corner of the net. Despite the disappointing scoreline our manager opted to maintain his reputation for not making subs too early, and the same eleven came out for the second half.

And we had the first decent chance of the second period, once again from Summerville, who was playing with the spark that seemed to have deserted him in the weeks before the international break. This time he opted to shoot from a narrow angle and Bachmann made the save, leaving the unmarked Bamford frustrated that the Dutchman hadn’t opted to play the ball across the face of the goal.

Just after the hour we substituted one player as part of a five man reshuffle. Firpo came on for Cooper to take up his usual left back role, which also meant that Byram moved to right back and Gray to midfield, while Ampadu retreated into central defence. Another significant change at about the same time was Dennis being forced off by his groin problem, and from then on Watford seemed to run out of steam in his absence.

The next change saw Rutter leaving the field, having done well to get through 74 minutes after his recent Hernia operation. His replacement was Piroe, who didn’t do a lot, but might have had a great chance if a through ball from Piroe had had slightly less pace as he raced through into a dangerous position.

And as time began to run out Farke threw caution to the wind as Anthony and Joseph came on for Kamara and Byram, so we had no fewer than six attacking players on the field in total. Or seven if you count Firpo, who rarely manages to do any defending. This would have left us vulnerable to a quick break if Watford hadn’t retreated so far back to protect what they already had.

And our sheer weight of attacking numbers told almost immediately. Summerville ran down the left and Firpo let the ball run through his legs as he knew that Joseph was better placed behind him. Joseph scuffed his first shot, but reacted in time to block the attempted clearance, and the ball bounced off him into the net for his first Leeds United goal in the league.

For the first time in the game it looked like we were the only side who could go on to win it, and we nearly snatched it right at the end. Summerville cut in from the left yet again and Bachmann made yet another save. This time it came back to Anthony, who chested the ball down before shooting, but the keeper had scrambled across his line in time to block the shot with his legs.

We kept up the pressure as the game went into time added on, but without managing to force the victory that would have taken us back to the top of the table. We need to get back to winning ways in that difficult game against Hull tomorrow night, but perhaps our post-international break slump was only the first half of this game and we can keep up the momentum we found in the second. Here’s hoping.


Reuters



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