Leeds United 1 Reading 0 - the final word: Gjanni Alioski and THAT dive, Bailey Peacock-Farrell's penalty heroics and has Lewis Baker had his chance?
Leeds United ran out 1-0 winners over Reading in the Championship on Tuesday evening in dramatic circumstances - but what were the key talking points from Elland Road? Phil Hay takes a look.
Has Alioski had his chance?
Here’s the thing about Gjanni Alioski. No player in Leeds United’s squad has created more chances than him and only Pablo Hernandez is creating more per game. That’s what the numbers say. But to the naked eye, Alioski energy and workrate - two undeniable traits of his - are masking a lack of invention on the left wing.
Tuesday’s performance against Reading (seven passes, 16 touches and a fairly laughable dive) felt like it had been coming. He has not scored for Leeds since Norwich City away in August and he has one assist on his record since the second weekend of the season. Marcelo Bielsa must value his graft and defensive qualities but the contrast with West Brom’s Harvey Barnes prior to the international break was a good example of what United need on that flank.
Bielsa’s problem is that suitable replacements are not plentiful. Jack Harrison is yet to show why Manchester City think so highly of him and Jack Clarke is feeling his way into first-team football, although his direct running and attempts to hit the byline on Tuesday night were exactly what Leeds wanted at the start of the second half. All the same, by the closing stages of the match the excess of attacking players in Bielsa’s line-up began to cause issues at the back.
Alioski has started all 19 games this season and played an average of 84 minutes in all of them. After weeks spent banging his head against a wall, his half-time substitution against Reading suggests a break is in order.
Many of us thought Ollie Watkins bought Brentford’s penalty at Elland Road in October by letting his feet go from under him and diving as Bailey Peacock-Farrell came out to meet him. Given the criticism of Watkins, it is only fair that Alioski takes his share for an equally staged tumbled against Reading.
There were differences between the two incidents - Alioski was booked for a start, and so lacking was the contact on him that he had the sense not to appeal for a foul - but it did not look good in real time or in retrospect and footballers rarely get away diving when the going is good. In the midst of a display like his, Alioski should have known better.
Nurturing Peacock-Farrell with January still a month away
Call it yin and yang. On Thursday Bielsa was effectively saying that he had lost faith in Peacock-Farrell as his first-choice goalkeeper. On his next appearance, Peacock-Farrell guesses right and gloves a 90th-minute penalty wide of the post, rescuing Leeds at the death.
Whether the 22-year-old is right or ready to be number one at Elland Road is a moot point but what is not in dispute is the fact that Bielsa needs a big month from him. Leeds play another seven times before the transfer window opens and allows them to sign another keeper and it is far too much of a risk for United’s head coach to consider gambling those 21 points on Will Huffer or Kamil Miazek.
Peacock-Farrell can take confidence from penalty save, believes BielsaWhatever happens in January, Peacock-Farrell is between the posts for now and it would do Bielsa no good to have a keeper there who doubts himself or doubts that people around him have faith in him. Tuesday’s penalty save was a step towards restoring Peacock-Farrell’s confidence, at a stage of the season when Leeds need him to hold it together.
An under-the-radar effort from Kemar Roofe
Under the radar was the phrase on Tuesday. Stuart Dallas popped up from nowhere to bag the only goal and the performances of Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips were unspectacularly big. To coin a coaching cliche, Bielsa’s centre-backs did the ugly things very well.
At the other end of the pitch, there was no reward for Kemar Roofe but his display was arguably his best since he returned from a calf injury last month: nine efforts on goal, three on target and two which were kept out by tremendous saves from Anssi Jaakkola. The other broke straight to Dallas, who tucked away the winner in the 60th minute. Roofe was on the end of everything over the course of the night and did his bit to grind Reading down.
Baker came to Leeds in the hope that Bielsa’s football would do more for him than Tony Pulis’ football at MIddlesbrough last season but he started for the first time in 14 months against Reading and was gone by half-time without a whimper. Bielsa was charitable afterwards, claiming that neither Bielsa nor Alioski had been especially poor, but Baker will see it as an opportunity gone wrong and the bench is beckoning him once more.