|Leeds United 1 v 0 Bristol City|
Saturday, 15th February 2020 Kick-off 15:00
Match Report: Leeds United 1-0 Bristol City - Ayling goal lifts Whites to vital win
Saturday, 15th Feb 2020 20:36 by Lucas Monk
Leeds United followed up an impressive midweek performance away to Brentford by returning to winning ways against Bristol City at Elland Road on Saturday afternoon - although the margin of their victory could and should have been far greater.
Luke Ayling netted the only goal of the game to worst his erstwhile employers in what was one of United’s most assured and consummate displays of the season.
But Marcelo Bielsa’s charges might have rued their spurning of several gilt-edged chances. Visiting goalkeeper Daniel Bentley produced a slew of superlative saves before Nahki Wells, so often a thorn in Leeds’s side, sent a rasping shot just wide of the mark with City’s only clear-cut opportunity of the game.
Nonetheless, the hosts secured the win that their play merited, and a crucial win it was with all of their promotion rivals dropping points in their matches. Most notable was Fulham’s suffering a 3-0 home defeat to basement side Barnsley. Ex-Cottager Cauley Woodrow bagged a well-taken brace in what was an astonishing series of events in West London on an especially auspicious day for Leeds.
When he announced prior to this match that he would field an unchanged team to that which outplayed Brentford on Tuesday evening, United head coach Bielsa was the recipient of much criticism, not least owing to Kiko Casilla’s glaring error in the first half of the game at Griffin Park.
But the Argentine soon found himself vindicated on a blustery and gelid afternoon in West Yorkshire. His side began as they meant to go on, played with verve and vivacity, penned the visitors into their own half, and picked them apart with frightful ease. Liam Cooper and Helder Costa both came close to opening the scoring as Leeds forced a glut of corners in the early embers of the match.
As each minute passed, the pressure increased. And Bristol would soon melt in the white heat of United’s brilliance. Despite the sumptuousness of their play, it was in a rather scrappy and agricultural fashion that Leeds took the lead on 16 minutes. They peppered the City goal with several shots, each ricocheting off a defiant defender, before Mateusz Klich touched the ball on for Ayling, who crashed it home from close range.
Those are perhaps the best goals. All that anticipation, all that emotion, building and building with every block, and then with one successful touch, out it comes in an explosion of joy. Ayling raced away in delight as the goal did with the minds of the fans.
Leeds kept their heads and refused to relent and might well have had a second goal just moments thereafter. Costa elicited an outstanding reflexive save from Bentley. Stuart Dallas smacked the rebound onto the bar. Bamford tucked the loose ball home, but was offside.
Bristol looked beleaguered and bedraggled and were incapable of making any sort of indentation into the United half. It was utter hegemony. Costa once more picked up possession and surged toward goal and let rip from 25 yards, and again Bentley was there to keep Lee Johnson’s men in the game.
The half passed in a blur. A blur of lots of funny men in white shirts running about and pinging some white blob around a bewildered red mess. Applause came as freely as the rain, and rightly so.
And then came the moment that the Bristol coach, the dwarven Johnson, had longed for. Ayling performed a block inside the box, perchance with his arm, and in it went, into some wretched little compartment in that embittered mind. In went the inevitable post-match excuse to divert attention away from his side’s slipshod and slovenly performance. (One must apologise, Lee, but you are a tad diminutive.)
Not that Leeds were in the mood to give him anything to smile about come full-time. They were irrepressible, and should have doubled their lead in the 68th minute when Ben White rampaged forward and played a splitting pass into the feet of Costa, who squared the ball for Bamford. The shot was poor, but again Bentley did enough.
Shortly thereafter it was Costa’s turn to have Bentley foil him. The former Brentford keeper was becoming rather a pain. Cooper’s long ball forward, Costa’s exquisite touch, Bentley’s logic-defying save from a tight angle to somehow keep the score at 1-0.
It was at this moment that a real trepidation crept in amongst the crowd. Leeds had been here before; utterly rampant, fashioning chance after chance, only to find themselves rueing their profligacy come full-time. When substitute Famara Diedhiou played Wells in behind White, hearts were in mouths. Fortunately, Casilla narrowed the angle and the Bermudan blasted his effort wide. Out came a collective sigh of anguished relief.
United were unfazed and able to finesse for themselves another fine chance a few minutes later. Dallas played in Jack Harrison, whose shot rattled the bar.
Surely, after all that, a Bristol equaliser was inevitable? Not so, despite Johnson’s earlier introduction of the powerful Diedhiou. Leeds negotiated the remainder of the game with ample maturity, and recorded a first clean sheet since December, and a win that puts them three points clear of third place. The terrific trinity of Liam Cooper, Kalvin Phillips and Luke Ayling, the man of the moment in every sense of the term, was instrumental in helping United to a crucial return to winning ways.
With 13 games remaining, everyone associated with the club will now be hoping that this wonderful win proves the catalyst for a strong run of form that secures that horribly elusive return to the Premier League.
Leeds United (4-1-4-1): Casilla; Ayling, White, Cooper, Dallas; Phillips; Costa, Hernandez (Shackleton 90’), Klich, Harrison; Bamford (Augustin 75’).
Unused subs: Meslier, Alioski, Berardi, Douglas, Roberts.
Bristol City (4-4-2): Bentley; Kalas, Williams, Baker, Dasilva; Eliasson (Palmer 74’), Massengo, Henriksen, Paterson (Diedhiou 60’); Weimann (O’Dowda 34’), Wells.
Unused subs: Wollacott, Hunt, Rowe, Benkovic.
Match Statistics (Leeds / Bristol City):
Possession: 69% / 31%
Shots: 21 / 3
On target: 6 / 1
Corners: 12 /0
Fouls: 13 / 14
Referee: Tim Robinson
Booked: Dallas, Klich (Leeds), Kalas, O’Dowda (Bristol City)
Man of the match: Luke Ayling (Leeds)
Photo: Action Images
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