|Leeds United 1 v 0 Barnsley|
Barclays Premier League
Thursday, 16th July 2020 Kick-off 19:45
Leeds on the brink after grinding out a vital win over Barnsley
Thursday, 16th Jul 2020 22:48 by Tim Whelan
In a typical Leeds game, the side making the most of the chances failed to make them count and didn’t get the result they deserved. But this time it was Barnsley who couldn’t shoot straight, and when they did find the net it was enough to give Leeds three of the four points we need to seal promotion.
The Swansea game on Sunday had the feeling of a promotion-clinching affair at the time, especially after being sealed with such a late goal after it could have slipped away from us. But yet another Brentford win last night had caused a few more doubts to surface on social media.
And some thought back to the surprise home defeat to Barnsley 30 years ago which could have denied us promotion, as that was also three games before the end of the season with Leeds top of the table and Barnsley near the bottom.
There was also speculation and trepidation about the possibility of Casilla being back in goal after his ban had finally come to an end, but he got no further than the bench with Meslier retaining his place. The only change to the starting line-up was the enforced one, with Phillips being replaced by Berardi, though it was Ben White who was moved into the defensive midfield role.
Barnsley had three of our cast-offs in their squad in the shape of Alex Mowatt, Aapo Halme and Clarke Odour, all of whom had been highly thought of at one time at Elland Road. And from start the visitors made it clear that they were going to give us a much harder game than we might have anticipated from looking at the league table.
They had the first chance when Brown was played in on the left and really should have hit it first time, rather than trying to sidefoot it in from a tight angle as Meslier closed him down. Unless he was trying to bounce the ball in off Cooper for an own goal, which could have worked. And the Leeds defence continued to look stretched when the next opportunity fell to Woodrow, but he sliced it horribly wide.
Usually we prefer teams who come onto us and give us the chance to play out from the back, but we can struggle when the opposition adopt our own tactics of working hard to close us down quickly. Though we did manage to fashion a good chance when Klich played a good ball across the face of goal but a little too far in front of Bamford.
Barnsley should have scored in the 27th minute when Styles got goal-side of Cooper, but sent his header wide, and they were to made to pay for their slack finishing a minute later when Leeds took the lead. Klich played an excellent ball through to Bamford, and when his first attempt to cross was blocked by a defender, it came back to him to pull back towards Costa.
Sollbauer got in front of the Portuguese, but not in time to set himself properly to clear it, and it bounced into the net off his foot. The Sky replay showed the ball had been very close to going behind before Bamford crossed it, but the whole of the ball has to cross the whole of the line and by a small fraction, it hadn’t.
The goal seemed to settle Leeds down, and we were close to doubling out lead just before the break, but Williams did very well to block a shot from Costa. We made the usual change for the second half, with Hernandez coming on for Roberts, but at the same time Barnsley introduced Luke Thomas, who looked lively throughout as he drove Barnsley forward.
He wasted no time in forcing Meslier into a good save, and the visitors had an even better chance as Styles shot across the face of goal and just wide of the far post. While that was going on Costa was being wheeled round the pitch on a stretcher after falling awkwardly after a challenge from Mowatt. Alioski came on and Harrison moved over to the right.
We were still looking far too open at the back and Sollbauer was close to making amends by putting the ball in the right net, only to be denied by another fine save from Meslier. And Styles missed another good chance after dispossessing Ayling, only to drag the ball just wide when he should have played in the unmarked Chaplin.
So Bielsa decided to shore things up by putting Struijk on for Harrison, which I think involved Ayling moving out of the centre and Dallas going further forward. Struijk had last been seen at end of the 3-3 draw with Cardiff, but this time he looked far more composed, apart from one occasion when he got caught in possession.
He’s highly rated, and with all the talk of Leeds needing another central defender as well as retaining Ben White, maybe he will go on to be the first team player we need. And going forward he began a fine move that ended with Alioski sending a perfect cross over to Bamford, only for Walton to make the save with his legs.
All credit to the goalkeeper, but Bamford had time to pick his spot and could have put it right in the corner, out of Walton’s reach. Shortly after we had a shout for a penalty when Bamford was brought down by a late tackle, the TV replays showing it was a definite foul but just outside the box. Still, a free kick from that position would have been nice.
We could have done with the cushion of a second goal as Barnsley continued to press forward and the nerves continued to jangle as the clock ticked down. As usual Shackleton came on to give us a bit more energy right at the end, and surprisingly it was Hernandez who made way, and the little Spaniard didn’t look too happy about it.
We had to survive four minutes of injury time, and when we had a free kick from a promising position we took the ball to the corner rather than take any chances. And then it was all over. You could say that Leeds scarcely deserved this win, but it’s payback time for matches like Swansea and Wednesday at home when had most of the game ourselves but failed to score.
So after all the anxieties of this post-lockdown spell we just need one more point to seal promotion, though we will be up before we next play unless WBA and Brentford both win their matches on Friday and Saturday. What to we want, our jealous neighbours Huddersfield to clinch it for us tomorrow, or to finish it ourselves at Derby as revenge for last season?
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