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Leeds promotion hopes damaged by first home defeat of the season
Sunday, 14th Apr 2024 17:08 by Tim Whelan

Once again the chance to go back to the top of the table was handed to us on a plate, but we dropped the plate. This week’s frustration-fest was at the hands of Blackburn Rovers.

The weekend began on a good note, with Leicester’s Friday night defeat at Plymouth. In all honesty it was ridiculous that Leicester lost that game with the number of chances they had, and Plymouth scored their goal while I had flipped over for a couple of minutes to check something on another channel. That’s a tactic I may well have to use again during the next few weeks.

So could we take advantage, or would it be a repeat of last week, when Ipswich’s defeat in the East Anglian derby was followed by our own loss at Coventry? Daniel Farke made some changes that the court of social media had already suggested, with Gnonto, Piroe and Roberts coming in, while Bamford, Kamara and James all dropped to the bench to have a bit of a rest.

And the newly-energised line-up produced a much livelier start to the game than we had managed against Sunderland, and in the early stages it seemed only a matter of time before we took the lead. The first chance came from a free kick almost on the goal line to the left of the area, when Summerville tried to curl a shot in on goal despite the narrow angle.

When Pears fisted the ball clear, it came out to Gnonto outside the area. The Italian certainly got plenty of power into the shot, but it was too close to Pears, who was able to make another save. Three Blackburn defenders had been blocking the path to the opposite corner, so there was no way of placing the shot beyond the keeper’s reach.

Ampadu and then Gruev went close, and Blackburn’s keeper was called into action again after Summerville went down the left and checked back to play the ball inside to Roberts. The full-back got the shot on target with his weaker left foot, but couldn’t muster the power to trouble Pears, who was able to push the ball away.

But by the half hour mark Blackburn began to get into the game, with their first foray downfield having to be stopped by a timely interception by Firpo, and they created a better opportunity just before half time. A poor pass from Summerville conceded possession and Szmodics took the opportunity to race into the Leeds half. He ignored the opportunity to pass and continued right to the edge of the penalty area, where he had Meslier at full stretch.

There were no changes in personnel at half-time, or in the pattern of the game as the second half began. The yellow card count was mounting as Blackburn continued with a physical approach, but they didn’t manage to convert any of them into a red card and nor did Leeds make good use of the many free kicks. The need for a specialist set-piece coach is ever more apparent.

And we had another scare when Szmodics sent the ball across the face of goal, where Roberts had to stretch to get a vital touch to prevent Dolan from having a tap-in, before Meslier dived onto the lose ball. While we were still creating chances at the other end, it was becoming one of those days when we just couldn't get the slice of good fortune we needed to take the lead from any one of them.

After a neat pass from Rutter Gray chipped the ball into the area, but Summerville wasn’t tall enough to reach it. The ball ran through for Rutter to have another shot, and after Pears’ save the ball hit Summerville on the head and could have gone anywhere, but unfortunately flew back into the keeper’s arms rather than into the back of the net.

Then Gnonto’s ball over to the right found James, and when the Welshman cut inside and tried a left foot shot, and when Gnonto saw it was heading just wide he slid in, but just failed to get the contact he needed. So on 67 minutes Farke decided to boost his attacking options with a triple change.

Rutter in particular seemed disappointed to have been taken off, but again he’d been lacking his zip of earlier in the season, making me wonder if he’d been rushed back too soon after his operation. The other two changes seemed a little more odd, with Gruev and Roberts having done nothing wrong. Byram, Bamford and James came on, so after all that we had one more attacker at the expense of the midfield.

And ultimately this would be one occasion when we would suffer from throwing extra attackers onto the field and leaving ourselves a bit light elsewhere. But the changes nearly paid off after a great cross from Gnonto found Bamford, but the striker couldn’t get the proper contact he needed with his head, with the ball hitting his shoulder and then clearing the bar.

That was one of Willy’s last contributions before he was replaced by Joseph, with Farke later explaining this substitution by saying that Gnonto was “not 100%”. Joseph seemed to struggle to get into the game and make a contribution, possibly not sure what space he needed to occupy with Bamford and Piroe already on the field.

The frustration was mounting all around Elland Road, but it would get far worse in the 82nd minute, with a Blackburn breakaway finding our depleted back line unable to get into shape to deal with it. Dolan turned and played the ball to Szmodics, who showed his striking pedigree by adjusting his feet very quickly as the ball arrived, to send the ball into the far corner while Meslier moved across his goal in the opposite direction.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so for the last few minutes Anthony came on for Firpo to give us yet another attacker, and Meslier came up for the final corners. But despite a series of penalty appeals (all of which would have been very ‘soft’ if given) time had run out before we had managed to create any more meaningful shots on goal.

Later in the day Ipswich would be the latest to stumble with another home draw, which means that our task now is to get two points more than either Ipswich or Leicester in the three games that remain. While also staying ahead of Southampton, who won to keep themselves in touch with the mis-firing top three.

So it’s still not impossible that we will get the results we need for automatic promotion, but it will take much better performances than this. After the international break stopped the momentum we’d built up coming into March, we now have to hope that the nine day gap before the trip to Boro will have the opposite effect, giving time for a reset and the chance to get back to our best.


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