THIS from Leeds United was resilience on a grand scale and more might be necessary after a prized victory which came with the obligatory loss of a player.
Chris Wood helped to scalp Reading with a first half goal but limped from the field before the interval, giving and taking in the space of 10 short minutes.
This from Leeds United was resilience on a grand scale and more might be necessary after a prized victory which came with the obligatory loss of a player. Chris Wood helped to scalp Reading with a first half goal but limped from the field before the interval, giving and taking in the space of 10 short minutes.
Garry Monk would not have placed a price on a win last night, outclassing the team who hold third place in the Championship, but in amongst a spate of injuries and suspensions the sight of Wood trudging from the field is perhaps what Leeds’ head coach feared most. Wood has 14 goals to his name after a raking finish at Elland Road and there is no-one at Leeds who can touch his figures, let alone replace him long-term. The striker pulled up with a tight hamstring and the club will look for reassuring news over the next 24 hours.
Monk and his players deserved better than another complication after a result and a game which made light of the losses United have coped with throughout the season. Monk was almost without a midfield last night, or without a recognisable one, but his tactics worked and were allowed to take hold by Wood scoring the crucial first goal. With a lead behind them, Reading with six wins from seven games before yesterday might have smelt blood and cut loose. Wood’s finish after 19 minutes gave Leeds free rein to negate Jaap Stam’s team brilliantly.
Reading have made waves in the Championship, a side spoken of highly by most who have seen them, but they were incapable of working out a formation which offered no room and forced Stam’s centre-backs, Paul McShane and Liam Moore, to exchange an endless stream of passes throughout the first half. Reading reached full-time with 77 per cent of possession but Leeds were rarely bothered. Souleymane Doukara eased all tension by driving in a 90th-minute penalty and of all the precious results turned up in the past few months this should please Monk more than any.
He was without Eunan O’Kane and Kalvin Phillips and still unable to call on Pablo Hernandez, a month on from the Spaniard’s hamstring strain. Liam Bridcutt’s involvement after three months out was reluctantly sanctioned and having started on the bench, he became Wood’s replacement on the half-hour. Monk managed the crisis and Leeds made his instructions tick, climbing back to fifth in the Championship table.
Nothing said more about the bare cupboards at Elland Road or the way in which Monk’s squad had been stretched than the selection of Stuart Dallas in place of Phillips. Bridcutt made the 18 but was named among the substitutes, admitting in the match programme that Leeds had planned to put him through at least one development-squad fixture before recalling him. In the wake of Phillips’ one-match ban, Bridcutt’s inclusion was needs must. It was moreso again when Wood limped from the field.
The same was true of Mallik Wilks, a 17-year-old Chapeltown boy whose performance as a striker for United’s youth teams has drawn an increasing amount of attention. While he featured, Marcus Antonsson – seven years Wilks’ senior – was nowhere to be seen. As Monk’s system took shape, Doukara and Kemar Roofe took up positions in the centre of the pitch, in front of a deep-lying Ronaldo Vieira. It was as improvised as Monk’s line-up is ever likely to get.
If Reading fancied a piece of it the number of bodies in front of them prevented their attacking line from getting at Rob Green too often. Leeds, in contrast, found their step quickly, attacking the left side of Stam’s defence and teeing up a chance which ought to have brought the opening goal on 10 minutes. Hadi Sacko eluded a couple of tackles and made ground into Reading’s box before guiding a pass to Roofe. The forward got under the ball and lashed it over the crossbar.
There was the occasional threat from Reading – a stinging cross from Joey Van Der Berg which Green palmed out to an offside Dominic Samuel and a cut-back from Garath McCleary which Kyle Bartley saw off with a brilliant sliding interception – and Wood underlined the importance of Bartley’s anticipation by scoring 60 seconds later.
Sacko, who had hassled full-back Tyler Blackett from the outset, made Reading back off and produced an effort which deflected into the middle of their area. Reading’s centre-backs were caught flat-footed and Wood pounced at close range, smashing the ball into the roof of Ali Al Habsi’s net. Stam fought a running battle with the fourth official over a few heavy challenges but in the period before Wood’s finish his sides were caught cold.
Monk’s tactics denied them time to breath tied down as a dog-legged string of five midfielders sat across the pitch, asking Reading to play through the crowd. The only fly in the ointment for Monk was the loss of Wood, the latest selection issue in a never-ending line. Monk called quickly for Bridcutt, forced into playing him for the first time since September and fingers were crossed as Wood stepped into the dug-out, the only player in United’s dressing room with more than three league goals to his name.
Doukara was inches from taking own his tally to three on 54 minutes when Sacko dispossessed Blackett and whipped a cross too far in front of him for Doukara to bury it with a sliding touch. Reading’s only riposte initially was a glancing header from McCleary which drifted wide. For an hour Leeds succeeded in making an in-form team look incredibly ordinary.
As Elland Road grew more confident, Reading’s composure dropped further. The Kop taunted Al-Habsi mercilessly after one too many clearances flew straight out of play. Reading came eventually as Leeds began to tire and Roy Beerens’ fierce shot brought a fingertip save from Green.
The keeper was at full stretch soon after to tip substitute Yann Kermorgant’s header wide. But Doukara made no mistake from the spot after Chris Gunter tripped Charlie Taylor with 90 minutes on the clock and a goalline clearance by Pontus Jansson from the very last kick summed up a night when Leeds seemed to want it more. This club aren’t going away.
Yorkshire Evening Post
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