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Leeds heading for the play-offs after shocker at QPR
Saturday, 27th Apr 2024 09:18 by Tim Whelan

Just when we thought we’d turned the corner with that win at Boro, we slipped back into the desperate form of the post-international break period, losing heavily to Queens Park Rangers in this critical game.

Despite the relegation battle that QPR have been embroiled in all season, this was never going to be an easy game. Martí Cifuentes has done an excellent job since he took over at the end of October, and if you compiled a table for the second half of the season they would be in the top six. Then you throw in the fact that they needed one more result to secure their safety, and wanted to be able to celebrate survival on their own ground.

In my last article I was moaning that Sky did us no favours by making this the Friday night game, as they might already have been safe if the game had kicked off 24 hours later. Instead, Ipswich have the advantage of playing tonight, against a Hull side whose play-off hopes might have been extinguished by other results earlier in the day.

But on reflection, the police might have vetoed any suggestion that Leeds might play on the Saturday night, with our fans having the opportunity to spend all day drinking in the capital. The Met might have saved us from having to pay London beer prices all day, but our travelling fans would have preferred to have their view of our performance blotted out by an alcoholic haze.

There was one enforced change to make for the starting line-up, with Bamford’s troublesome knee letting him down again, so Piroe came in. And after the game he was to become the scapegoat for some of our fans on social media, presumably not the same people who slate Bamford on a regular basis. Dan James was also absent from the squad after the injury he suffered on Monday.

For the first few minutes I thought it was quite a measured Leeds performance and we’d gradually start to get into the game and dominate possession. But if that was the plan, it went out of the window in the 8th minute, when we allowed QPR’s best player the space he needed to run through our midfield to cut inside and shoot from the edge of the box.

Rodon leant to try to block Chair’s shot, and it might have come off the top of his arm. But that didn’t matter, because all he did was to get a deflection, which took the ball beyond Meslier’s reach into the corner of the net. OK, we went behind early on at Middlesbrough and came back to win, so could we do it again? Er, no.

We did manage our first decent move to set Piroe up for a shot, but it lacked the power to trouble Begovic, and the keeper got down to make a comfortable save. But QPR doubled their lead in the 22nd minute. This time it was Andersen who was given far too much space, being able to cut in from the right after collecting the ball from a throw-in, before curling the ball inside the far post.

I thought that in the last 15 minutes of the first half we began to wake up a bit as it dawned that we now had a lot to do to get back into this game. But Cifuentes has got the QPR defence very well organised, and they worked hard to nullify our main threats, while we lacked Bamford’s movement to drag defenders out of position and create space for the others.

Our best moment was a fierce volley from Summerville, and this time Begovic and to react quickly, but he managed to pull off an excellent save. We also forced four or five corners, but nothing came of them, as usual. Presumably the players had a right telling off during the break as we came out looking far more determined in the second half.

A promising move saw Ampadu pull the back for Rutter, but the Frenchman showed why he is better at assisting than scoring, as he dragged the shot wide. Is there no one on the coaching staff who can tell him how to shoot? At the other end, Byram had a brief tug on Chair’s shirt, but let go once he remembered he’d already been booked, so Chair was left free to shoot just past the post.

That was Byram’s final contribution of the night, as he was replaced by Joseph, who went into the centre forward position, while Piroe dropped deeper and Gray went to right back. And this almost paid dividends with Joseph’s flick being on target until Begovic used his feet to send the ball wide. The referee incorrectly gave a goal kick, but we would have undoubtedly have wasted the corner anyway.

It was left to the hosts to demonstrate how to score from corners, which they duly did in the 73rd minute. Dykes gave Joseph a nudge as the ball came over to give him something else to complain about. This wasn’t deemed to be a foul, but it did give Dykes the space he needed to head the ball past Meslier’s fumbling efforts to keep the ball out.

So our difficult task became almost impossible, and the next two subs saw Summerville and Rutter replaced, the pair who should have been our main threats, but who had been ineffective against the hard-working QPR defence. Anthony and Gelhardt came on and ran around enthusiastically, but to no greater effect.

And on 86 minutes QPR rubbed it in by scoring from a free kick, which is something else we never manage to do, this time headed in by Field. Piroe responded by blasting one of our free kicks well wide. Farke’s last two changes had the air of just bunging two other random players on in case something happens, as Kamara and Shackleton replaced Gnonto and Gruev.

There were five minutes injury time to get through before the ref finally put us out of our misery and the embarrassed players had to trudge over towards the Leeds section of Loftus Road (see photo). Where the few Leeds fans who hadn’t already left chanted “what the ****ing **** was that?”

You could say that four goal margin didn’t reflect the balance of play on the night, but the defensive solidity and incisive attacking of January to mid-Match are a distant memory. This was all horribly reminiscent of another crucial late season defeat in West London, the loss at Brentford as nerves overcame Bielsa’s squad towards the end of his first attempt at promotion.

In that 2018/19 season we carried our poor form into the play-offs, and duly lost out. This may well be our fate again unless Ipswich do us a huge favour and mess up even more than we have in the games that remain. And if we can’t get our act together in the play-offs, can Farke repeat Bielsa’s feat of winning promotion the second time around?


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