Leeds United 2 Nottm Forest 1

Last updated : 08 April 2023 By .

Arguably the biggest change Javi Gracia has implemented since replacing Jesse Marsch at Leeds is the reintroduction of width.

Where his American predecessor liked the team to play a narrow game, the Spaniard favours a more expansive approach with wingers no longer penalised for hugging the touchline.

Two of his wide boys duly repaid Gracia’s faith here with Jack Harrison and Luis Sinisterra not only scoring the vital goals but torturing Nottingham Forest’s full‑backs throughout.

Their game-changing input enabled Leeds to not only recover after falling behind but rise to the dizzy heights of 13th, albeit just two points above 17th-placed Forest in the tightest of relegation battles.

Only goal difference is keeping Steve Cooper’s travel-shy side out of the bottom three and, after eight games without a win, his job security seems in increasing jeopardy.

Not that Cooper appeared fazed by suggestions that he will be the 13th top flight manager sacked this season. “I understand and respect the question but I’m not the sort of guy that thinks like that,” he said.

In contrast Gracia has collected 10 points in six league games since his installation at Elland Road and was all smiles afterwards. “I’m really pleased, the performance was really good,” he said. “It’s a really important win. Our attitude was perfect. I’m very proud.”

Rightly or wrongly, Forest’s Emmanuel Dennis has a reputation for being high maintenance but few critics dispute the forward’s ability. Sure enough Dennis delighted in emphasising his quality by shocking Leeds and very nearly scoring when his volley ricocheted off the inside of a post following a connection with Brennan Johnson’s early corner.

With Luke Ayling failing to heed that warning Forest did score when a slick break concluded with Dennis cutting back for Orel Mangala to dodge his marker and send a low shot from the edge of the area curving beyond Illan Meslier’s reach.

So it proved as Harrison swiftly equalised. That leveller featured a smart piece of subterfuge on Ayling’s part, with the right-back’s clever decoy run enabling Harrison to initiate a move also involving Weston McKennie and Marc Roca which culminated with Keylor Navas spilling Roca’s shot and Harrison lashing the rebound home. It was his third goal in four games.
As Elland Road echoed to “Marching on Together” Cooper folded his arms and stared at his shoes leaving Gracia to presumably give thanks for Harrison’s presence on his team sheet. Not for the first time this season, a winger who has seemed reborn under Gracia impressed enormously.
So, too, did Sinisterra. The left winger underscored his growing importance to Leeds as he shuffled beyond Neco Williams before curling his side’s quite brilliant second goal past Navas from the tightest of angles to leave the normally undemonstrative Gracia reacting as if he had just won the league.
In an attempt to recalibrate the power balance Cooper introduced Jonjo Shelvey and Taiwo Awoniyi and his side improved a little.
While Shelvey helped even things up in midfield, Awoniyi offered a fresh attacking threat and it took a superb tackle on the part of Junior Firpo – a left-back much improved under Gracia’s tutelage – to deny the newcomer a clear-cut opening.
Although Harrison and Bamford dragged shots wide, a previously dominant Leeds had temporarily faltered and things briefly turned thrillingly end to end.
Happily for Gracia, his team improved sufficiently to cling on to all three precious points while extending their guests’ woeful away record. Another win on Sunday, when Crystal Palace visit West Yorkshire, would further alleviate Leeds’ relegation fears