Leeds United 1 West Bromwich Albion 1
There may have been an element of fortune about their goal, but I felt that Albion did enough to earn a draw at Elland Road on a night that both sides will feel left much room for improvement.
The hosts’ long injury list and the disruption caused by wantaway players mean that they will have a good deal of optimism that things are likely to improve; for the Baggies, however, hopes rely on the new boys getting match fit, and them being joined by further new faces before the window shuts, and that Corberán and his coaching staff can continue to improve the team’s adoption of a modified playing style.
Albion started with three at the back once again with Phillips playing as a left wing back and Conor Townsend a rare absentee from the starting line up. In the first half, both sides pressed well and neither defence looked completely comfortable playing out. Corberán himself seems unclear as to why this didn’t continue after his team had taken the lead, and maybe his new captain, Jed Wallace, needs to take more on field responsibility to enforce the agreed tactics. Wallace has had a quiet start to the season and I wonder if his elevation to skipper has impacted his approach to matches and his natural playing instincts.
Okay looked very out-of-sorts in the first half and was guilty of losing possession on a number of occasions – the back three does give more options when playing out, but the Turk is the principal receiver of the ball in central midfield and his below par performance was one of Albion’s major issues before the break.
The Baggies best spell was immediately after half time and they took the lead in somewhat fortunate circumstances as Molumby’s mishit shot deflected off Thomas-Asante’s arm. Under the current interpretation of the handball rule, it would have been ruled out had the referee seen it, although the striker knew nothing about it and it was certainly not the deliberate act that the letter of the law demands.
There certainly was a noticeable drop off in pressing from the Albion front line after that which allowed Leeds to dominate possession and it was no surprise when they equalised. It was preventable, however, as Erik Pieters showed that his instincts are more attuned to the role of a full back than a centre back as he failed to attack the cross allowing Ayling to get ahead of him and score. Ironically, Conor Townsend dealt much better with a similar incident later in the game.
The final twenty minutes or so saw both sides have chances with both Alex Palmer and Illan Meslier forced into good saves, although it was Palmer’s stop from Daniel James that stood out as an outstanding piece of goalkeeping.
Corberán switched to a back four shortly after the goal bringing on Townsend for Pieters which meant that Sarmiento, who had earlier replaced Swift, was playing as a number ten. Neither he, nor Maja who came on later, had much of an opportunity to impact the game as Albion didn’t have a lot of the ball when they were on the field – I doubt we will see their true value until they are fit to start.
I was a good point that I would have been happy with before the game, albeit the hope of all three was there given Leeds’ current tribulations. There is still plenty of room for improvement all over the pitch, and plenty of time to bring in some new faces before the window closes. Albion’s current mid-table position is a fair reflection of their performances so far, we can only hope that both will improve in time.