Leeds United were left ruining poor finishing and bad luck on Friday night as they fell to a 1-0 defeat to Wolves following a genuinely weird own goal from Leeds ‘keeper Illan Meslier.
See the Leeds’ player ratings from the game here.
Leeds were trying to recover from a disappointing 4-2 loss to Arsenal which had seen the Whites drop out of the top half of the Premier League table. Kalvin Phillips was still unavailable through injury, whilst Mateusz Klich was cleared for action after concerns around his hip had surfaced in the week. Despite the nature of the loss in London last weekend, Marcelo Bielsa only made one change, Tyler Roberts replacing Ezgjan Alioski in the side.
Wolves had been on a very poor run since the loss of Raul Jimenez earlier in the season, but had won their most recent game against Southampton and the home side decided to stick with the same players who had delivered that victory.
Wolverhampton Wanderers have developed a habit of starting games very aggressively. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side are amongst the lowest scorers of early goals in the Premier League and the Portuguese tactician has made the change to prevent his team from being placed on the back-foot too early in games. The team in orange continued that habit against Leeds. The forward-line of Traore, Willian Jose and Neto did not allow the travelling defence anytime on the ball at all and forced the visitors into rushing their build-up.
Despite the threat of this press, Leeds United were still the team creating chances early on with Tyler Roberts, making his first start since mid-October against Manchester City, fed Patrick Bamford into the Wolves area, who promptly won a corner.
The Welsh international threatened again only a few minutes later when his dummy fell into the path of Mateusz Klich, but the Pole couldn’t get a shot away in time.
Wolves did threaten in the opening exchanges though. Nelson Semedo took a volley on from deep that forced Illan Meslier into a solid save before Pedro Neto followed suit and drew a spectacular stop from the Leeds ‘keeper after the winger’s shot had deflected off Stuart Dallas.
Raphinha saw the efforts from distance and fancied himself to better them at the opposite end of the pitch. The Brazilian made Patricio work for it but the save was made without too much fuss.
The best chance of the first half came in the 20th minute when Liam Cooper met a Raphinha set-piece with his head. Leeds’ captain was on the edge of the six-yard box and yet couldn’t keep his header away from Patricio in the Wolves goal.
The away side kept attacking and Pascal Struijk forced another good save when Mateusz Klich’s low cross bobbled off the post onto Patricio and out to the Dutch defender. Struijk took it on the volley and put it on target but the intervention was made brilliantly again by Patricio, who I am being forced to mention far too much.
With Adama Traore and Pedro Neto lining up, there is always the threat of a counter-attack, and Wolves were not without their chances on the break. As the half-hour mark approached, Neto set Nelson Semedo, the former Barcelona full-back, free in the Leeds area and Meslier made a vital save to keep the scores level. A similar situation occurred a few minutes later when Semedo was played in again. Stuart Dallas was turned on to the issue though and forced the defender wide before he got his shot away.
The game had slowed down as it approached the break. Wolves had stopped pressuring and had all their men camped in their half, ready to burst out at the first opportunity. There was time for one more half-chance though. Raphinha made it down the right and his shot was mere inches away from the feet of Tyler Roberts. A deflection from Conor Coady had kept the ball away from the arriving Welshman.
At half-time, the score was 0-0 with both teams threatening but neither coming out on top
If the game was slow at the end of the first half, it was walking pace at the beginning of the second. Leeds were their usual bundle of energy and high-tempo but Wolves had set up camp around their area and weren’t rushing to take throw-ins either. Still, they posed a constant threat of counter-attack and it was from this route that the first chance of the second period came.
It really should have been a goal. Pedro Neto had worked his way into the Leeds United area and had Willian Jose completely free in the centre of the area. Neto decided to ignore the January arrival and instead take the ball further away from Illan Meslier’s net and lash a shot well over the bar. It was selfish from the winger and he knew it judging by the look on his face after the chance had gone.
Leeds’ threat did come back though. A warning sign came when a Luke Ayling cross was cut out excellently by Conor Coady and turned behind for a corner. Marcelo Bielsa’s side then won a flurry of free-kicks in wide areas. The first was well seen to by the home defence but the second found Liam Cooper. Again is space. Again six yards out. Again it was right at Patricio. Patrick Bamford’s follow-up attempt was blocked too and so it remained goalless.
Leeds were really piling on the pressure now though and, despite Wolves preventing any clear chances from being created, it felt like the goal would come for the away side.
Of course, this was the case when these two teams met at Elland Road earlier in the season when a Raul Jimenez shot took a ginormous deflection off the back of Kalvin Phillips and delivered his team the three points. That goal was up there with Helder Costa’s own goal vs Crystal Palace in terms of ridiculous goals to concede, what happened next just about beats them both.
Adama Traore cuts in from the right, evades Luke Ayling, evades Pascal Struijk and fires a shot that is seemingly destined for the top corner. The ball hits the woodwork and then proceeds to bounce off the back of the still airborne Meslier and drop into the back of the net. Wolves were ahead and it was going to be a tough one to get back into.
In an attempt to encourage more creative play Jamie Shackleton, who was exceptional both in and out of possession, made way for Pablo Hernandez. This worked and the chances from this point onwards were completely in Leeds’ favour.
Liam Cooper again should have scored when he met another Raphinha set-piece. This time the Scottish international attacked it with his feet but Patricio still made the stop. A teasing ball from the ever-sprightly Roberts was equally close to the arriving Patrick Bamford and the far corner of the net. It found neither though.
The pressure continued and it seemed that Leeds finally had their equaliser when Tyler Roberts played Bamford in behind the Wolves defence and the striker finally got the ball past Rui Patricio. Fortunately for the home team, Bamford was ruled offside by the smallest of margins. It was a debatable one for sure, but Wolves remained ahead.
It was getting desperate now. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side would go ahead of their opponents with a win and Marcelo Bielsa seemed aware of that. On came Helder Costa, who scored against Arsenal, and Ezgjan Alioski to add even more attacking impetus.
Tyler Roberts had threatened all night but had been let down by his first-touch too many times. He decided to take matters into his own hands though when he unleashed a rocket of a half-volley towards the Wolverhampton Wanderers goal. Conor Coady took the full brunt of the shot to the face and the play was stopped. Oddly, Wolves opted to keep the ball from the drop ball as opposed to giving it back to their opponents, which is seemingly unsportsmanlike conduct, but no matter.
There was time for one last big chance and it fell to former Wolves man, Helder Costa. A long ball forward was taken down by the winger inside the area. He had space around him but rushed his shot and placed it right into the legs of, you’ve guessed it, Rui Patricio.
That was the game. 90 minutes of poor finishing and good defending, with 30 minutes of serious time-wasting thrown in by the hosts for good measure. Wolves are the first team to do the double over Leeds this season and will be counting their lucky stars that they got the three points. There is a quick turnaround now for Marcelo Bielsa’s men as a match against Southampton on Tuesday looms large.