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Sphere on Spiral Stairs

Leeds United     3 (Byram 9, Summerville pen 88, James 90+7)   

Hull City             1 (Carvalho 34)                                                    


1st April 2024, EFL Sky Bet Championship


Leeds continued to put their case for automatic promotion strongly last night with a hard fought battle against a decent Hull City side that pushed us all the way. It shouldn’t have been as close as it was though had we been as efficient as we sometimes have been this season.

Leeds had the perfect start when going ahead in only the 9th minute of the game. It was a classic Leeds United 2024 goal too. Sam Byram won the ball in a tackle on the halfway line out on the right touchline and Dan James pushed the loose ball inside to Georginio who then set off on one of his characteristic slaloming runs through a forest of Hull City players. Dragging the ball along with him as he twisted one way and then another he eventually left four gold shirts in his wake. He stroked the ball towards the left corner of the Hull area and Cree Summerville bore down on goal. This time he defied his song and went outside rather than cutting inside and his left foot drive was too powerful for Ryan Allsop to hold and he merely deflected it high into the air at the back post. Sam Byram had followed the play all the way and was perfectly placed to outjump a defender to nod the ball down and over the line. Nerves were calmed.

There had been no real danger moments for Leeds as the game moved on into the 24th minute when Leeds had a glorious chance to double the lead and perhaps lay the foundation for a big win. Sadly it was a moment for Patrick Bamford to forget – one of many he’s no doubt trying to forget over the course of what has been an erratic season for the unfathomable striker. This time it was Archie Gray starting the move that then saw Cree Summerville slide the ball though the inside left channel for Dan James to run onto. He ran through the defensive line to meet the ball and stabbed it right across the face of goal to where Bamford was closing in on the blind side of a defender. It was an open goal for Bamford to tap home but the ball bounced up as he swung his left boot at it and he merely shinned the ball over the bar from six yards out.

Bamford has sunk back to his frustrating worst form recently and this miss sort of capped what has been a lack-lustre few weeks for him. One wonders how much longer the club can afford to carry a player who too often fails to justify his place in the team. Surely we have reached the point now when we ought to be looking to the future and give Mat Joseph the opportunity to stake his claim for that number 9 shirt. Bamford is surely too inconsistent to be retained as our regular striker next season whatever division we find ourselves in?

Bamford’s miss looked to be very costly indeed when, only ten minutes later, Hull City equalised. They seemed to take heart from the belief that maybe that let off meant there was something in this game for them after all, a chance to end a five match winless streak that had seen them slide out of the all-important top six. They began to monopolise the possession but, as yet, without finding a cutting edge.

Then Leeds failed to clear the ball when a Jayden Philogene shot was blocked and Tyler Morton skated around the left side of the Leeds defence before firing the ball across to the near post. Fabio Carvalho glanced in with the deftest of touches off his leg under a challenge from Ampadu. The mood around Elland Road suddenly turned very edgy as we contemplated the possibility of dropping points when we’d only an hour earlier on TV seen Ipswich score an unlikely last minute winner against Southampton. That Bamford miss was weighing heavily on our minds. For the moment it felt like our season was more likely to end in a play-off lottery than in promotion delight.

It felt even more like that moments later when Allsop first made a couple of excellent close range stops to deny Georginio and then Summerville’s follow-up strike hit Bamford who’d strayed offside rather than the back of the net. When things go wrong for Bamford they tend to keep going wrong and, just at the moment, he’s got that ‘albatross around our neck’ look about him. I kept wondering if maybe now was the time to remove him from the equation, could we afford to keep waiting for the moment he comes good again? Do those moments come often enough anymore? My thought was not really anti-Bamford, although I’ve never been his biggest admirer, but more a gamble that we’d get more, and get it more quickly, from someone else.

At half-time there were no Leeds changes which suggested Daniel Farke still had confidence that Leeds, just like both our closest promotion rivals earlier in the day, could find a way to win despite seeing Hull bossing the possession. They had created fewer out-and-out chances than Leeds, but, unusually, Leeds were having less time on the ball than the rampant Tigers and this Hull side had proved a few times this season they are no mugs. They’d won at Southampton and held Leicester to a draw within the last few weeks although too many draws had seen them overtaken in the race for a play-off place.

Leeds started the second half well but then Hull had a good spell and it was pretty even with half chances at both ends. Sam Byram smashed the ball across the face of goal at one end and Philogene hit one past the post at the other. Then a Hull header drifted onto the roof of the Leeds net. Then, real danger for Leeds as Hull broke and had a man over, Omar, on the right side of the box. He steadied himself, took aim, and curled the ball towards the left corner of the net with his left boot. Meslier was beaten but thankfully so was the post. It was a warning of just how fine the margins were now in the run-in to the end of the season. One slip, and it could be those dreaded play-offs. Then all bets would be off!

It was hard to resist the temptation of thinking that what Leeds were missing was the solid, steady influence and ball winning ability in midfield of Ilia Gruev. He’d become such a vital part in this Leeds equation since he broke into the team – probably as important as finding out just how good Ethan Ampadu could be alongside Joe Rodon and the return to form of Summerville and James.

On 66 minutes we got the inevitable penalty shout turned away when Archie Gray appeared to be scythed down in front of the Kop. In the 72nd minute Patrick Bamford was finally removed from the fray having had one of ‘those’ games we see too often and Mat Joseph got another chance to show he’s the future.

Joseph was immediately more visible than Bamford and he started giving former Leeds man Lewie Coyle plenty to think about. The ref gave two early challenges in Coyle’s favour but Coyle knew his hands were now full and Leeds were slowly exerting more influence on the game. Joseph was everywhere and next he turned a low Junior Firpo cross onto the foot of the back post before the ball was recycled and Firpo had a chance near the other post. Lewie Coyle was then substituted as his efforts to hang onto Joseph took their toll on his legs. Leeds twisted again and brought on Piroe for Kamara. We needed a moment of magic or a Hull mistake… we got both as Cree Summerville raced into the box and attacked Regan Slater near the byline. Summerville got past his man but Slater stuck out a leg and Cree was scythed down. It was as clear a penalty as can be and this time referee Josh Smith obliged.

There was the usual angst as we waited to see who’d take the spot-kick; we knew it wouldn’t be Junior Firpo despite him holding the ball in the modern fashion while Cree and Joel Piroe had what looked to be a heated debate on the subject. Firpo initially gave the ball to Piroe but Cree snatched it back and Piroe, despite a plaintive look over to the bench for some superior order, trudged away.

Cree is a confident young man these days but I’d still much prefer it if we’d aim for the corners but Cree slotted his kick straight down the middle and, thankfully, Allsop dived away to his right and away from the ball. 2 – 1 Leeds and suddenly all was goodness and light again in this most unpredictable Championship promotion race.

Leeds helped run the clock down and to freshen the available legs by bringing on Jamie Shackleton and Jaidon Anthony for Summerville and Byram and there was the inevitable last hurrah from the Tigers, now with nothing to lose. Ryan Allsop raced up to the South End for a corner as the seven minutes of added time ebbed away. It was a panic filled few seconds as Leeds failed to clear the corner and it was recycled back into the box. Georginio then collected it but, to the shock and annoyance of 33,000 Leeds fan, he tried to dribble his way out of the area and inevitably lost it! Still, Allsop’s blue shirt could be seen launching himself at the loose ball but finally Joe Rodon blocked a shot and celebrated like we’d won the league! The ball rebounded to Piroe who strode purposely out of defence with it before flicking it down the right wing. Allsop was now haring back but was still only midway in his own half when the ball was struck towards goal, first time, by Dan James and the ball flew and flew from all of 50 yards to find the far corner of the net. That would help Dan forget his penalty failure for the Welsh!

So, in the end, the three automatic promotion rivals all won, all after difficult games in which they all struggled at times. Perhaps it’s the nerves. Leeds currently sit second, a point behind Ipswich and a point ahead of Leicester but, crucially, Leicester have a game in hand. I’d say that with six games to go (seven for the Foxes) the odds slightly favour Ipswich and Leicester but that will chop and change game by game; surely one of the three will have a stumble somewhere although I wouldn’t bet much against all three winning every game. The key games appear to be Ipswich at Norwich next Saturday lunchtime and several Leicester games that look tricky. The Foxes still have to face both Southampton and West Brom. We have to make sure it’s not us that stumbles and next up is another tricky looking game at Coventry. They have the experience of a play-off tilt from last season of course and, like Hull, they are right in the hunt to repeat that this time around.  Also like Hull, they gave us a hard game in the reverse fixture this season. It will, most likely, be another tense afternoon… but I can’t wait to witness it.

        Game Statistics:


                     Leeds United Hull City 

  Possession         44%    56%

  Shots                  14         11

  On Target             6          2

  Corners                4          3

  Fouls                    9         13

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