21st January, 2024, EFL Championship.
It’s not often that football serves up justice, not often when the team playing the honourable positive football wins the game and the cynical, time wasting, second best team is beaten. Today, as the second half wore on, I really did start to think we were heading for another huge injustice should we fail to find a winning goal. Thankfully, those football gods did the decent thing and a handball was spotted by referee David Webb and substitute Joel Piroe put the spot-kick away.
The first six minutes brought back memories of those helter-skelter opening minutes we saw so often in games in the early part of the season. Leeds, looking all positive and determined, rocked back on their heels within 65 seconds and then coming straight back to level five minutes later.
The Preston goal looked needless and sloppy to me. A simple ball to the back post from a free-kick, an easy header back across goal, no one taking control of the situation, and Leeds players turning their backs to the ball while Liam Millar pounced on it.Millar fired it across the face of goal where Will Keane stuck out a leg and diverted the ball past Meslier. I think it would be fair to say we were slow to react.
No matter, we were back on terms 5 minutes later and it was a goal that showed why Preston have fallen from grace in recent weeks having topped the table in September. Junior Firpo ran onto the ball near the left byline and scooped the ball over to the back post where an unmarked Dan James had the simplest of tasks to head past David Cornell in the visitors’ net. When Dan James scores with a header you have to question the quality of the defence!
From that point on, Leeds only had one more scare, when that man Millar got free on the left to smash a shot at goal that Meslier did well to push around the post. At the other end there were sights of goal for Summerville and Firpo who both put shots over the bar and Patrick Bamford with a glancing header straight at Cornell from a James cross. Meanwhile, the cynical side of Preston was already starting to show as they picked up two early bookings as did Cree Summerville for a lesser offence. 1 – 1 at the break and to be fair, Preston looked a far better side than Cardiff or Birmingham were recently albeit so cynical in their defending.
In the early stages of the second half Leeds ramped up the pressure and Preston looked to have decided the best they’d get would be the point they already had so they showed far less ambition and became even more cynical as they adopted a thou shalt not pass mentality that looked as if it might frustrate to the end. Leeds missed decent chances too. Georginio ought to have scored when he stabbed a ball at the left post from six yards after Summerville skated around three of four defenders on the byline to set him up. Then James ought to have scored when he raced through to lob the keeper but, just as he did at Cardiff the other day, he put too much on it and it sailed into the Kop. Bamford was through on goal a couple of times too but couldn’t finish.
Leeds made changes in the 76th minute as Joel Piroe replaced Kamara and Sam Byram took over from Firpo. They were positive moves that reflected the need for Leeds to find that all-important winner. Byram was soon marauding down the left causing problems. It took referee David Webb until the 83rd minute to finally book Cornell for his tiresome time-wasting and play-acting but Preston defenders were picking up cards on a regular basis for foul after foul. As the minutes ebbed away Leeds won a succession of corners and Piroe had a shot saved before the telling corner in the 83rd minute.
The left-wing corner was held up in the wind and twice, clearing headers were met by Leeds heads to lob it back into the mixer. The second time the ball bounced up and clearly struck the arm of Ryan Ledson and referee Webb was soon pointing at the spot. There was the usual nervousness as Bamford held the ball while the Preston protests went on but finally there was a huge sigh of relief as Piroe was given the ball after Joe Rodon took instruction from Daniel Farke on the matter. Piroe made no mistake, coolly slotting it into the right side as the keeper went the opposite way. It was no more than we deserved and well done those football gods!
It was Leeds’ turn then to run the clock down with a couple more substitutions and, nervous as we all were, there were no real concerns despite a lengthy period of added time. The only real criticism of Leeds today was our poor finishing again – another thing we’ve actually improved before today. We had 20 attempts at goal but only found the target six times; nowhere near enough really. Apart from that and that sloppy early goal it was an efficient enough display with solid performances again from the defence and from Kamara and Gruev in midfield.James was a torment most of the game while Cree was perhaps not as potent as we know he can be and Georginio had one of his quieter games. We might need more from the dynamic duo against Norwich on Wednesday night. We should also remember that annoying wind brought to Yorkshire by storm Isha that made ball control a tad tricky all afternoon.
All that mattered though was the three points; if we are to catch either Saints or Ipswich or both, we need to continue to dispose of teams like Preston, Cardiff and Birmingham, just as we have done. If we do, then all we can then do is wait to see if it’s enough; see if those other sides fail to do the same. We have a slight advantage in only having Southampton to play – that last day showdown that may turn out to be a winner-takes-all moment. All eyes now on the Leicester – Ipswich game on TV tomorrow night that will see another piece of this Championship jigsaw in place and maybe more of the final picture revealed.
Leeds U Preston NE
Possession 57% 43%
Shots 20 8
On Target 6 2
Corners 9 3
Fouls 12 18
Sky Bet Championship
Leeds United 2 (James 6’, Piroe 90' pen)
Preston North End 1 (Keane 2’)
Leeds: Meslier (GK), Firpo (Byram 77’), Ampadu (C), Kamara (Piroe 77’), Bamford, Summerville (Cooper 90’), Rodon, James, Gray, Georginio (Joseph 90’), Gruev. Subs not used: Klaesson (GK), Anthony, Shackleton, Poveda, Gelhardt.
Preston: Cornell (GK), Whiteman (C), Lindsay, Keane (Brady 77’), Frokjaer-Jensen (Woodburn 90’), McCann (Ledson 70’), Storey, Hughes, Riis Jakobsen (Stewart 77’), Millar (Browne 77’), Potts. Subs not used: Pradic (GK), Cunningham, Bauer, Best.
Referee: David Webb
Booked: Summerville, Bamford, Georginio (Leeds) Whiteman, McCann, Lindsay, Cornell, Ledson, Stewart (PNE)
Venue: Elland Road