West Bromwich 1 (Ajayi 2)
Leeds United 1 (Ajayi 52 og)
There was something satisfying about this result, it sort of restored my faith in the fact that, sometimes at least, we do get what we anticipate from a game. We’d been witness to that astonishing game at St Andrews only the other day and there have been some very strange results around the Championship over the hectic Christmas period but this one, for me at least, did exactly what was printed on its tin!
All the talk before the game was how there had not been a draw in this fixture at The Hawthorns since August 1978; some 13 games had since come and gone all settled in favour of one side or the other but this one surely was destined to end level, with both sides tied at the top of the table and with only a 2 goal better goal difference keeping Leeds above the Baggies. It was a 2/5 bet apparently ahead of the game and, had I put any money on it, I’d have gone for 1 – 1 for no better reason than my first ever Leeds away game was here and , yep, you guessed it, it finished 1 – 1 back in April 1969, Eddie Gray equalising a Dick Krzywicki opener for the Baggies. I even thought another Eddie might get our goal in this one…
Mind you, two minutes into this game and a draw looked a very optimistic shout for us! Why, Oh why do we find it so difficult to clear our lines from corner kicks? We look petrified every time we give a corner away and then when the ball’s lobbed into our goalmouth it suddenly takes on the appearance of a hot spud that no one wants to get hold of! At least six different Leeds players jumped for this one and all six made a mess of it, one after the other. We look like we never bother to rehearse them at all! So, a goal down inside 2 minutes and I was fearing the worst.
We mentioned the spirit and belief this Leeds side possesses after the Birmingham game and, in a different scenario, we showed it again today, although we had to endure a particularly stodgy first half performance before it really came to the fore and by then Marcelo had hooked Nketiah and Alioski and replaced them with Patrick Bamford and Barry Douglas. The former was no doubt a reflection of the news we’d learn after the game that this Eddie was going back to Arsenal and, to be honest, he did little for us in this, his farewell appearance. Maybe he was intent on ensuring he was fit to make his next move, wherever that may be, but he was hardly in the game at all. The switch of Douglas for Alioski was presumably to try to tighten the Leeds back line which at times had looked flaky to say the least with Alioski often struggling to cope with the Albion wing play. Kiko Casilla had been one of the six jumping jacks that failed to defend the early Albion corner but he then earned his corn with two fine saves; palming away a fierce free kick and then denying a one-on-one as that Leeds back line was left flat-footed again. In between those saves we might, on another day, have got a penalty as a clear handball appeared to be waved away by referee Rob Jones.
Thankfully Marcelo’s substitutions worked this time and, within a few minutes of the restart, Bamford himself benefitted from some of that luck we missed out on in the first half, as he failed to make good contact with a header but then saw it ricochet off Ajayi past his own keeper to level the game up. They do say luck evens itself out if you wait long enough! Sadly Paddy could have done with a bit more later in the game when he tried his luck from a tight angle when half the away end was shouting “Square it Paddy!” … it brought back memories of Hadi Sacko did that! Paddy, like Hadi often did, sometimes makes the wrong decision.
Two more decent saves from Kiko were needed in the second half making him my Man of the Match but Leeds probably shaded it; certainly we had more ball if not better chances. But 1 – 1 is a great result and the result this game was always destined to be. Neither side has had the best of returns over the last couple of weeks but the 6 points from 5 games Leeds have collected have come from much better opposition that we faced in that run of 7 wins. Sometimes it’s important to factor in the opposition before criticising our own team.
Now we can all begin to savour that trip to the Emirates and wonder what strength team Marcelo will send out for that one? Do we go for it or sacrifice it?
W.B.A. Leeds Utd
Possession 37% 63%
Shots 13 10
On Target 6 2
Corners 8 9
Fouls Committed 18 13