A first league win in three games saw Leeds United put five past a miserly Newcastle side and move to within three points of the top half of the Premier League table.
It is still early days for the Yorkshire side in England’s top flight, but they have already won admirers with their aggressive, flowing style. Style doesn’t guarantee results though and Leeds fell to disappointing defeats against both Chelsea and West Ham that led to a huge sense of fear within the fanbase.
“Cooper needs to go”
“Alioski not good enough”
I confess that I was also clamouring for some kind of change, the performance against West Ham was notably poor and something needed to shift if Leeds were ever going to win. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bielsa made no changes to his starting XI.
In contrast, Steve Bruce, who saw Newcastle to a win against West Brom last time out, made four changes to his squad; Jeff Hendrick replaced Miguel Almiron whilst Jacob Murphy, Fede Fernandez and Ryan Fraser also came in for Emil Krafth, Jonjo Shelvey and Matt Richie.
Bruce had come up against Bielsa’s Leeds side before, losing 1-0 to the Whites during his short spell in charge of Sheffield Wednesday, so would have a better idea than most of how the Argentine would set up his team and it seemed initially as though the Newcastle manager had got it right.
The Geordies were the early chance creators, within the first minute Isaac Hayden had a miss-hit cross come back off Illan Meslier’s bar and the Leeds defence had to be sharp to clear a number of crosses swung in dangerously by the sprightly Ryan Fraser.
The Elland Road side did their best to force themselves into control of the match, Rodrigo turned a presentable opportunity well over the bar on 12 minutes and Karl Darlow made a brilliant save to stop a Liam Cooper header crossing the line, but it was the Magpies that scored first. More good work down the left saw Ryan Fraser pick out his former Bournemouth teammate, Callum Wilson and the strikers flick on was converted exceptionally well by the arriving Jeff Hendrick.
This ended Leeds’ recent streak of scoring first in matches but, having lost both of those games, no Leeds fan, or indeed player, was particularly perturbed by this.
It was important to get on level terms before the break though. Rodrigo, who seemed back to his best after a dismal performance at the weekend, whipped in a dangerous cross that was within inches of Raphinha’s boot. The Brazilian was then unable to convert his header goalwards after good play down the left by Ezjan Alioski before the former Rennes man turned provider and sent a high ball towards the head of Rodrigo, the Spaniard sent a looping header towards goal that rebounded off the crossbar, with Patrick Bamford there to turn home the equaliser.
Leeds were on top going into half-time and that didn’t change after the teams had exited the tunnel for the second period. Steve Bruce’s men were pushed back into their own half and forced to rely on hopeful balls forward to escape the pressure. Chance after chance flew towards the Newcastle net but with little success.
There was a brief nervy moment at the heart of the Leeds defence as VAR looked at a Liam Cooper tackle in the area to try to adjudge whether a penalty should be awarded. It was not deemed to be ‘clear and obvious’ and so play continued.
Raphinha took an ambitious strike from 30 yards that didn’t trouble anyone within 10 miles of the stadium and a Patrick Bamford shot from the edge of the box rolled into the hands of Karl Darlow before Leeds finally had their breakthrough.
And what a breakthrough it was.
Rodrigo switched the play to the left to find Jack Harrison, with the on-loan Manchester City winger having to strain every cell of his body to bring the ball down. He did though and smashed an on-the-volley cross into the centre of the box where Leeds’ most expensive signing was waiting to turn home a diving header in fabulous style.
Leeds seemed to be heading for a comfortable victory at that point and had faced no real threat from their opponents in the second half. Until, in typical Leeds fashion, they were the architects of their own downfall. An attempted short corner routine went horribly wrong. Newcastle countered through Ryan Fraser and Illan Meslier was forced into a good save from a bouncing Callum Wilson effort. Leeds then conceded from the corner, in what is becoming almost a customary factor of each game, and the arrears were level once more.
Leeds United’s dream of a second home victory of the season seemed to be fading with every minute that passed until the players realised that they had an opportunity to shut up every pundit who had suggested they had “blown a gasket” (I’m looking at you, Tim Sherwood) and obliterate the visiting team.
First, Mateusz Klich swung a ball to the back post and Stuart Dallas arrived late in the box to head Leeds back into the lead. Then Leeds introduced three attackers from the bench and things went truly mental. Leeds successfully defended a corner (!!!) and Kalvin Phillips clearance was picked up by the impressive Raphinha, who brought the ball forward very well and was promptly joined by four teammates. He laid the ball across to Pablo Hernandez, back from injury, who set up our left-back, Alioski, inside the Newcastle box to thump home. The final nail was added to the geordie coffin only two minutes later, another successfully defended set-piece (!!!!!!) saw the ball find it’s way to Jack Harrison who promptly unleashed an unbelievable strike from 30 yards into the top corner of the Newcastle net.
It was the best result possible for Leeds fans, with all eyes keenly directed towards Sunday’s clash with Manchester United.
Illan Meslier – 7
Stuart Dallas – 8
Luke Ayling – 7
Liam Cooper – 7
Ezjan Alioski – 7
Kalvin Phillips – 7
Raphinha – 7
Mateusz Klich – 7
Rodrigo – 8
Jack Harrison – 8 (MOTM)
Patrick Bamford – 8
Pablo Hernandez – 7
Tyler Roberts – 6
Jamie Shackleton – 6