Leeds United 1 West Brom 0
Albion may have ultimately lost the match at Elland Road, but the bookies’ favourites for promotion this season will now know for sure that Slaven Bilić’s team will offer some stiff competition for the automatic promotion spots this season.
For me, the match was a fantastic advert for the Champsionship. Some of the football was breathtaking at times from two of the division’s heavyweights, but it was also punctuated by mistakes. Often, mistakes lead to goals, but last night, more errors were made by attacking players than defenders which meant that the goal tally was kept down, but there was no shortage of goalmouth incident.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Baggies deserved a point. They ended up with 52% possession against a side that had averaged more than 60% this season after dominating the second half, with Bielsa’s team hanging on towards the end.
The decisive moment was somewhat controversial. Ezgjan Alioski’s shot/cross was heading towards Patrick Bamford until Kyle Bartley got his foot to the ball, unluckily diverting it into the corner of the net. Bamford, however, was in an offside position when the full back fired the ball across and, in my opinion, the Leeds striker was interfering with play by simply being there – if he hadn’t been, Bartley need not have played the ball at all.
The officials, however, decided otherwise and the goal stood. It marred what had been a containing performance by the visitors up to that point. Leeds dominated the ball before the break, but I think that was the result of Albion ensuring that they didn’t give anything silly away – there was a much more direct approach to their play and, while Robson-Kanu was probably the right choice for that lone striker role based on his strengths, he did not have the best of nights.
Bilić recognised that Kalvin Phillips was Leeds’ most potent playmaker without Pablo Hernandez in the side, and he evidently instructed Matheus Pereira to sit on the Whites’ academy product. While that did much to restrict Phillips’ influence, it also restricted the Brazilian’s ability to support Robson-Kanu, which may go some way to explain his below par night.
Sam Johnstone kept Albion in the game with a superb double save just before the break, while at the other end, Matheus Pereira came closest to scoring for the visitors when he danced through the Leeds back line only for his shot to be saved by Kiko Casilla. It was a better save from the Spaniard than most will have given him credit for – Pereira aimed to slot it between his legs, but he reacted quickly to block it.
The Leeds ‘keeper put in a good performance, seemingly unaffected by the allegations that he racially abused Jonathan Leko during their match at the weekend.
After the break, it was a different game. The hosts probably had the clearer chances, but the Baggies dominated the ball for long periods. It was probably as tough a defensive workout that Leeds have had for some time, and huge credit should go to them for standing firm.
It highlighted that the one weakness in Bilić’s squad is that central striker. Austin was left on the bench having looked in need of a rest at the weekend, Robson-Kanu had an off night and KenZo failed to impact the game. Pereira, Diangana, Phillips and Edwards all had their moments, but it never quite opened up and clear chances were at a premium.
It should not be forgotten, however, that this was the first match in which Albion have failed to score this season and only Fulham and Preston have scored more goals in the Championship. With an in form striker, the Baggies could be devastating.
The second half performance should fill Baggies fans with pride and anticipation for the remainder of the season. Leeds are probably the best side in the league and Albion went toe-to-toe with them on their patch. On another night, it could have been a different result.
A positive result would have certainly had the rest of the Championship sitting up and taking notice, but that performance will have done enough for other clubs to be casting concerned glances towards the Hawthorns. Albion are certainly in the conversation.