Leeds United 4 (Hernandez 1, Bamford 28,63, Alioski 90+2)
West Brom 0
Right! Well that will have settled everyone’s nerves! There were doubts before the game, let’s be honest. Everyone, (well mostly everyone) agreed that there wasn’t really anything very different about the way Leeds had been playing in recent games, and yet good results had been hard to come by and then losing at a QPR who were coming off the back of seven straight defeats themselves didn’t look too clever. We couldn’t quite put our finger on what was wrong other than a tendency to miss good chances in front of goal and, now and again, looking a bit sloppy at the back. The match stats were still looking pretty much how they had done all season. We could maybe point to the fact that Tyler Roberts was still settling into his new role as ‘Enganche’ (QPR was only his second outing in that position) and that his strike partner, Patrick Bamford had still only started four games; their relationship on the field is obviously a crucial one but only came about through the injury to Kemar Roofe recently and was still a new one. The doubts were nagging at us though.
The West Brom game was therefore considered by many as a potential watershed in the season, another bad result without seeing a return to that fluency we know this team of ours has within it’s make up, would in all probability mean that automatic promotion was unlikely. On the other hand, a top performance against a team said to have the best squad in the Championship and the feeling was that anything would still be possible. The other comment frequently heard from Leeds fans, even in the midst of what was considered to be a poor run of form, was that sooner or later, if we could find that early season formula again, then we’d absolutely batter someone!
Within 16 seconds of the start of course, Pablo Hernandez had reprised a goal once scored by Gordon Strachan at that same South Stand end. Strach’s came right at the end of a game against Leicester City, towards the end of our 89/90 season when we were similarly desperate for a win to help us over the promotion line. I was there with my good lady and I can still remember it vividly, the nerves and the thought we’d blown it as the final seconds of the game ticked by. It is captured forever with an iconic commentary “Have you ever seen a better goal, have you ever seen one better timed”. Pablo’s was right at the start of course but it was pretty much from the same spot on the pitch that Strach fired his “Howitzer”, the timing was though equally as crucial. In front of a packed Elland Road, with the fans nervous but raucous, it was just the tonic to flush out whatever malaise had been holding us back. West Brom were visibly shell-shocked by Pablo’s “Howitzer” as Adam Pope has apparently dubbed it during his BBC Radio Leeds commentary and their travelling fans packed into the West Stand were silenced.
The rest of the night is already history; buoyed by that early break through, the Leeds players were suddenly a foot taller and a yard quicker and literally steam-rolled their way to victory. Roberts finally looked settled in that Enganche role (with hindsight we can now say of course how well he has done to get to grips with that role in just three outings) while Bamford showed the one thing he is good at and the one thing we have missed so badly throughout the season; clinical finishing. It was almost the perfect display from Leeds – if I was to be picky I would say I thought we still gave the ball away too cheaply on a few occasions through a poor pass choice or poor control, but when we did we were then terrier like in getting it back, hunting the ball down in packs of two or three each time. No journo will ever again ask Marcelo Bielsa if his players are burning out!
The night was made complete when Jamie Shackleton came on in the dying seconds and was straight on the pace as he burst through with his first touches to slide the ball across to Gjanni Alioski. You won’t believe me but I almost put money on Leeds to win this game 4 – 1 – you all know that I love the way coincidence raises its head in our beautiful game and I was thinking back to earlier in the season when West Brom beat us 4 – 1. Around that time they crashed themselves to Derby 4 – 1 and of course we had already beaten the Rams 4 – 1. It was a 33/1 bet but the good folk around our table in the Pavilion persuaded there was no way on earth we’d score 4 past the Albion.
It’s a funny old game!
Leeds Utd West Brom
Possession 56% 44%
Shots 13 7
On Target 9 1
Corners 3 4
Fouls 13 14