Leeds Utd 1 (Bamford 21)
Crystal Palace 5 (Guehi 45+1, J Ayew 53, 77, Eze 55, Edouard 69)
9th April 2023, Premier League.
What an absolute shambles! With a glimpse of light visible at the end of this dark tunnel of a season as we went ahead early on, Leeds managed to self-destruct this afternoon in a catastrophic manner and we’re again plunged into uncertainty and fear when we ought to have been celebrating an important victory that would have got us oh so close to safety. We have seen how our defence has struggled all season, especially without the presence of Max Wober, and once again today it was shown to be unfit for purpose.
Until the 44th minute, Leeds had this game under control and the defence had little to do. Totally dominant and playing well, we had a one-goal lead and were constantly a threat, while Palace appeared to have nothing in their locker to trouble us. The only criticism that could be levied at us at that point was the old chestnut that we hadn’t been clinical enough to convert that domination into goals, either through our own poor finishing or the ability and agility of the Palace keeper Sam Johnstone; it felt like so many games this season in that respect. And then came that 44th minute.
In hindsight, we’d been given a warning of how Palace might be given a lifeline earlier in the game from a right-wing corner. On that occasion Jeff Schlupp was given the freedom of the six-yard box having ghosted in between the flat-footed figures of Luke Ayling and Robin Koch; the woodwork saved us that time and I guess the only thing that might make that seem any better was that it’s pretty much what Patrick Bamford did to Palace for our goal. But, in the 44th minute another set-piece, this time a right-wing free kick, was dealt with just as badly by the Leeds defence with a little help from Lady Luck for Palace. The ball bumbled off a Palace shoulder in the heart of our box and then it was Guehi who reacted the quickest to nip in and beat Meslier to the loose ball. It was an awful time to give away a soft equaliser and it must have boosted Palace almost as much as it devastated Leeds. No one could have foreseen the shambles that would unfold in the second half though.
Palace took the lead in the 53rd minute and it was another very familiar-looking goal. For all that Javi Gracia may or may not have changed some things about this side, it is clear that he has not solved the fragility of this defence of ours, a defence that constantly commits the same errors week after week, game after frustrating game. This one was the back post header we have succumbed to far too often and, once again it was Luke Ayling there failing to even get off the ground as Ayew stepped in front of him and rose unchallenged to head inside the near post. I’m sorry to say it, but I fear that Luke is nearing the end of his usefulness in a defensive capacity; too often these days he’s in the frame when we concede. It looked like Luke himself knew it too as he held his head in his hands for the second time in a week and then pummelled the turf.
If that wasn’t bad enough though, within two minutes we were 3 – 1 down. A simple short pass between two Leeds defenders and no one was tracking the movement through the middle of Eze who thus had a simple tap-in with his appearance behind us looking to be a complete surprise to the ball-watching white shirts.
At 1 – 3 down I guess Leeds had no choice but to throw caution to the wind so we can’t be too hard on the defence from then on which was inevitably overstretched; it was four Palace forwards to two white shirts as Edouard broke clear and cracked an accurate shot into the far corner. Should Meslier have done better with that one? I’m not sure. That was in the 69th minute and the misery was complete eight minutes later as Rasmus Kristensen played Ayew onside as a shot was half-blocked on its way through. Again, it was poor organisation from the Leeds back line and at the very least a lack of awareness.
So, a great opportunity to put distance between ourselves and the bottom three is lost; it’s Palace that have grabbed that opportunity and, for the time being at least they look safe. For Leeds, it becomes a bad weekend when we are one of the five losing teams amongst the ‘nervous nine’ and not one of the four winners. Only time will tell how much damage has been done today but certainly, our favourable goal difference has been given a bashing and three of the nine are better placed now in that regard.
We are conceding too many goals and too many are soft. 54 have gone past us now this season and only Bournemouth have conceded more, three more to be precise. We desperately need Max Wober back to try to steady the ship, without him we look so vulnerable. What else we can do I’m not sure but we have to find a way of keeping Luke away from defending that back post in the air; I said it last week and I’ll say it again, it doesn’t work, he can’t do it.
Somehow we need to quickly regroup. All is not lost as survival is still, for the time being at least, in our own hands and we still have those big games against Leicester, Bournemouth and West Ham to come. It’s hard to resist the temptation to say though, that all three of those games will now determine our fate. Liverpool is next up, and what would we give for a repeat of those Anfield heroics?
Leeds Utd Crystal Pal
Possession 48% 52%
Shots 11 16
On Target 7 8
Corners 2 4
Fouls 11 8