Wolves 2 (Castro Otto 26, Trincao 45+11)
Leeds Utd 3 (Harrison 63, Rodrigo 66, Ayling90+1
Everyone had their hearts checked? Mine’s OK, just, but many more of these Leeds games and I’m going to be done for! A real Jekyll and Hyde performance from both sides tonight but, as with the Norwich game, the rub of the green went for us at crucial times and where quality was maybe still lacking, the spirit was there in abundance!
Up until the 53rd-minute tonight, Leeds were pretty woeful, do not fall into the trap of believing anything other than that just because we ended up beating a decent Wolves side. We’d started well enough and carved out a couple of decent chances but, as so often they went begging. Patrick Bamford had a similar one to the one he missed early on against Norwich and again showed he’s way off the free-scoring Bamford we got to know last season, while Rodrigo should also have done better with his half-chance. Those both came early on but then, when Wolves took the lead in the 26th minute, the writing was on our wall.
Wolves went in at halftime with a two-goal lead, both coming down the Leeds left and both cases of pretty woeful defending. The first saw a simple ball down the Wolves right allow Trincao to get clear behind us and pull the ball back for a simple finish by Castro Otto and then the second, coming in the 11th minute of first-half added time, was a case of the Leeds defence going to sleep at a Wolves free-kick. The ball was slotted through that Wolves inside right channel again, pulled back again, and finished just as sweetly again. We’re conceding too many preventable goals and this may still prove to be our undoing this season.
Those goals were not the only problems we faced in the first half of course; at times it looked like a battlefield out there as Leeds players regularly trooped off the field to be replaced by one Under 23 after another! Patrick Bamford was first, he was replaced by Sam Greenwood - presumably because of that knock that Joffy picked up against Norwich. Then Diego Llorente limped off holding his back and on trotted Robin Koch. Finally, just before that second Wolves goal, Matty Klich went off with a head injury causing our first use of a concussion sub this season; on came Charlie Cresswell. Wolves lost Neves too in an injury strewn first half that made finding any real rhythm pretty impossible for either team.
Wolves had this game done and dusted; 2 – 0 up, ten minutes into the second half and they were flying into one of the top six places in the Premier League with an eye on a Europa League spot, it has been a fine season for them under Bruno Lage. And then they perhaps showed their inexperience of such heady heights. They’d already shown a side to their game we saw up at Elland Road, a tendency to go down too easily and feign injury at the slightest contact while happy to time waste too at every opportunity. But Raul Jimenez had picked up a yellow card just before half-time and so he ought to have been a bit more circumspect as he charged after a loose ball that Illan Meslier also had his eye on. Thankfully Illan got there first to clear the danger but Jimenez clattered into Meslier and, after the usual play-acting pretending he was hurt, referee Kevin Friend eventually held up a second yellow and then the red and Wolves were down to ten. Illan Meslier was too shaken to continue as well and on came young Kristoffer Klaesson. So Leeds now had Greenwood, Cresswell and Klaesson on, all solid Under 23 performers but with little experience on this sort of stage.
Inevitably Leeds started to dominate the possession but we still lacked quality and we needed a break to get some belief. It came from one of several runs from Luke Ayling, who, for perhaps the first time in months looked back to his best; we can only wonder how different our season might have been had we found a way to keep him at full-back all season. Robin Koch finally found a delightful cross-field ball that beat a defender by a couple of inches to land perfectly at the feet of Bill behind the home defence. This was Leeds of course so there was no clinical finish, Bill managing to find the far post with a half-decent strike. The ball came back to Ayling and he and a defender between them scuffed the ball at goal again only for Conor Coady to acrobatically block that one. Enter stage left, Jack Harrison, playing his 150th English league game to finally force the ball home and the come-back was on.
Fair play to the young Leeds lads, they were all magnificent; Charlie Cresswell again surely made a claim for more starts – something many of us have been clamouring for all season – as he put in a strong mature performance and was unlucky not to get on the score sheet too. The key now though was to get that equaliser and within three minutes we had it. Once again we made a bit of a meal of it but once again the rub of the green or the run of the ball went for us. Dan James should probably have scored as he gently volleyed the ball over the stranded de Sa only to watch in horror as the ball came back off the crossbar. He then lashed at the rebound knocking it across to the other side of the goal. Once again de Sa charged out and once again he found himself in no man's land as Rodrigo skated past him and steered the ball inside the post!
Now Leeds had the momentum, but could we find the goal that would give us a seemingly impossible three points? Jack Harrison thought he had it as he bent a shot towards the top left corner but de Sa somehow clawed that one away and then Charlie Cresswell placed an almost perfect header just over the same angle. But this game had Luke Ayling’s name all over it, he was already far and away the man of the match and now he’d cap it all with a famous goal. It was a Leeds free-kick out on the right-wing sent in by Harrison, it was too long really but Ayling somehow stretched every sinew to get a head to it to knock it into the air and then, as it fell, Pascal Struijk fought for it before it broke to Bill again. This time he simply put his laces through the ball and it rocketed into the net. Whether he’d planned the celebration that followed I’m not sure but he failed to perform a decent cartwheel and then followed it with a head roll, nothing to compare with his infamous air guitar solo though! Who cares, he’d led from the front and we’d got a potentially priceless three points.
Wolves messed this one up and the Leeds fans ensured they knew as we sang “Two-nil up and you fu**** it up!”. There was still time for a couple of superb saves from Klaesson that could easily be put in the “Game-winning” category, one from a stinging shot from Trincao.
So, three points that few of us thought were possible but that have given an altogether different look to the bottom of the table. Let’s not get carried away though, we were poor for too long in this game and the red card was our salvation. Yes, we then fought like tigers and the kids were all magnificent but we need to tighten up the defence and we need to start putting away some of the good half chances we make. It seems that none of the injuries picked up today is serious so, with two weeks off, we could be in good shape by the time the Saints come marching in. We’ll need to be, the job is not finished yet but we’ve given ourselves every chance now. The abiding memory of this game though will be one of the second half come-back and we can at least be sure that these boys are not lacking in spirit! Enjoy the two-week break folks and give those nerves a rest!
Wolves Leeds U Possession 48% 52%
Shots 14 15
On Target 8 6
Corners 2 5
Fouls 13 14