Leeds United 1 Watford 0

Last updated : 03 October 2021 By Louise Taylor at Elland Road

At the seventh attempt this season Leeds banished any growing self doubt by winning a Premier League game. 

Admittedly they will face infinitely more awkward opponents than Watford and there remains a certain fragility about some of their play, but with Dan James finding his feet on the left wing and Diego Llorente restoring order to defence, optimism just about eclipsed pessimism at Elland Road.

 

“Of course I feel relief,” said Marcelo Bielsa. “We should have scored more goals but we defended well. The result was never in danger.”

There was somewhat less satisfaction in the Watford camp with their goalkeeper, Ben Foster, pulling no punches. “We were very poor,” he said Foster.

“If we’d equalised it would have papered over the cracks. Leeds were very sharp and worked their socks off but we didn’t have a shot on target. We can’t expect to come away with anything.”

Llorente’s return to central defence after injury not only offered Leeds reassuring stability but a source of stellar distribution from the back. The Spain international’s passing represented a key reason why Watford quickly found themselves on the ropes and it was thoroughly appropriate he scored the 18th-minute winner.

 

It arrived when Raphinha’s corner ricocheted off Juraj Kucka and Llorente’s sharp reactions enabled him to hook a volley beyond Foster.

The overwhelming Elland Road consensus was that shortly afterwards Leeds were denied a penalty when Simon Hooper turned a blind eye when William Troost-Ekong extended an arm and hauled James back in the area.

No matter; the good news for Leeds was that James enjoyed his best game since arriving for £25m from Manchester United.

He seems to have finally got the hang of his new manager’s high-speed, high-intensity, high-pressing, game and his enthusiastic contribution to it at times left Watford looking as if they were running on empty. Their defence could certainly have done without James’s disorientating change of pace.

If Danny Rose had been looking forward to his first competitive return in a club fixture since leaving Leeds in 2007, he surely had a change of heart after struggling to subdue Raphinha and the impressive right-back, Jamie Shackleton.

Leeds, though, are traditionally generous hosts and when Llorente made a rare error, Ozan Tufan had the underworked Illan Meslier to beat but, miscuing, skied his shot over the bar.

As the second half unfolded Xisco Muñoz adjusted his formation from 4-2-3-1 to, theoretically at least, an attack-minded 4-2-4 and, for a few seconds, he thought Watford had equalised when Meslier uncharacteristically dropped a routine ball and watched in horror as it trickled over the line.

Fortunately for the Frenchman, the referee had already blown for Christian Kabasele’s perceived foul on Cooper. “If that goal had been given it would have been unjust to the overall picture,” said Foster.

After long periods of almost blanket Leeds dominance, an equaliser would certainly have been a bit of a travesty but their inability to conjure a second goal dictated that an element of fear lingered in the cool, damp October air until the high-decibel eruption of joy at the final whistle.

Granted, Tyler Roberts’s late shot was cleared off the line by Kucka and then hit the underside of the bar but Bielsa must be hoping Patrick Bamford returns from injury after the international break wearing his shooting boots.

Given the hire and fire habits of the Pozzo family, Watford’s notoriously trigger-happy owners, Muñoz will presumably be happy to simply survive the next fortnight. “I’m sad and disappointed,” he said. “If we want to win games we need better performances. It’s important to change the situation.”