|Aston Villa 2 v 3 Leeds United|
Barclays Premier League
Sunday, 23rd December 2018 Kick-off 13:30
Second half comeback stuns Villa as Leeds claim top spot
Sunday, 23rd Dec 2018 23:50 by Tim Whelan
We seemed to be heading for a bad defeat after 17 minutes, but an excellent second half comeback saw Leeds beat Aston Villa and claim the top spot in the Championship for Christmas.
Before the game there was mixed news on the injury front. Luke Ayling was back to resume his duties at right back,but on the other flank Douglas had been battling an illness and before kick off he decided that he wasn't going to make it. So young Leif Davis had to make his debut in that position.
We also heard that Bamford wasn't on the bench, but that was just a precaution after he felt a “bit of tightness” in his leg, rather than a full blown reoccurrence of his injury. So the bench was left with a distinctly youthful look, as our various fitness problems rumble on.
And it took a while for our makeshift side to settle down, with the hosts certainly having the better of the early stages. In the first minute Davis probably should have conceded a free kick in a dangerous position by easing Kodija off the ball, but the referee waved play on.
But there was no escape a few minutes later, when McGinn won the ball in the area and Abraham was on hand to fire Villa in front. I thought Jansson was at fault for not following Abraham's run, as the Villa man was given far too much space to pounce on the loose ball.
We seemed to react well to going behind, and Harrison would have equalised if he'd made any sort of decent connection with Roofe's cross, but he scuffed the shot and the Villa defence were able to scramble the ball clear. And just when we seemed to be getting back into the game, another Harrison error at the other end led to a second Villa goal.
His poor bal out of defence went straight to Abraham, and his pass set Hourihane up for a curling shot into the far corner. Peacock-Farrell was another who could have done better, as his starting position should have been further to his right, with the defence having the other post covered.
But once again Leeds were to recover from a setback, and for the rest of the half we were to have the bulk of the possession. We could have been gifted a goal back when Bree headed towards his own goal and Nyland did well to keep it out. We also had a shot from Klich that didn't have the pace to trouble Nyland, and a free kick from Hernandez we thought was in, but in fact went narrowly wide.
Perhaps our best opportunity to get back into the game was when Jansson was pulled to the floor by Hutton at a corner, but the referee declined to award the spot kick the challenge merited. We needed to make a change at half time, and this week it was Harrison who was withdrawn to slow Jack Clarke to make his customary second half appearance.
Yet as the second half began it seemed to be the home side who had increased the tempo. It began to look like Dean Smith had worked out the tactics to overcome Bielsball, having come close to beating us in his last game as Brentford boss. They seemed to be rushing forward to pressurise our defence and stop us playing out from the back, as well as closing us down elsewhere on the field.
I started to think Jack Clarke wasn't having one of his better games, with Villa getting a couple of players to confront him every time he got the ball. He also played one pass straight out for a goal kick, and sent an ambitious header over the bar when he should have nodded it across the face of goal.
But then he produced a moment of magic to score his first senior goal for Leeds, cutting inside to fire powerfully into the far corner. How could I have doubted him? In the words of the Sky commentator, Leeds were “back in a game they were never out of”.
And five minutes later we were level, with Jansson meeting a Hernandez corner to send a powerful header into the corner of the net. At that stage Leeds could have stopped to draw breath after the effort of getting back onto level terms. But there was no thought of sitting back to settle for a draw, even though we might have thought that was a good result before kick-off, never mind after after going two down.
Klich nearly beat Nyland with a dipping header and then we had another shout for a penalty, as a header across goal by Roofs seemed to have been handled. We also went close when an attempted clearance bounced just wide off Roofe's leg, though at the other end Peacock-Farrell had to be alert to deny El Ghazi after the defence had failed to clear.
But just when it seemed as though a draw was inevitable, a mistake from El Ghazi gift-wrapped the points for Leeds, as his dreadful casual clearance went straight to Roofs, who made no mistake. The comeback was complete and as a blue smoke bomb went off, the Leeds team rushed over to celebrate with our fans as delirium broke out in the Leeds section of the crowd.
So it was that less than 24 hours after we'd been moaning about the way Norwich keep getting late winners, we had one of our own, to claim the all-important Christmas number one spot in the Championship. This feels like a massive win, not only coming from behind to win with a makeshift team, but doing so against a team who had turned their season around in recent weeks.
That's now six wins in a row, and with the next two games being at home, I see no reason for the run to end just yet. Do we now start to believe that this is our year?
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