Brentford's Griffin Park was the perfect venue for Leeds United to show up once again - Graham Smyth's Verdict
What better place than here? What better time than now?
Thomas Frank said Leeds United couldn’t pick a worse place to play on Tuesday night, but Griffin Park was the perfect venue for the Whites to show up once again.
They might not have ended the night with three points, but they were certainly more deserving than Frank’s Brentford and attacked like a side full of confidence in a 1-1 draw that stopped a mini-run of defeats.
Leeds were scared of Brentford, said the Bees boss in his pre-game press conference.
Those who know Leeds, know otherwise.
Leeds only have themselves to fear and even in this game their demons made themselves known for a brief, costly moment.
This was the game that would have taken Leeds out of the top two, for the first time since November 23, had they lost.
It was non negotiable, they had to come away with something. And it took bravery and guts to do so.
An automatic promotion spot was the carrot for Brentford, who smelled blood against a United team struggling for form, if not confidence.
Yet for a side so confident, the hosts showed a few early nerves.
A Henrik Dalsgaard error allowed Jack Harrison to nip into the area, with enough pace that he couldn’t be challenged, but he was off balance as he shot and it trundled to David Raya.
Mateusz Klich pounced on a heavy touch in the middle to start a counter attack that led to a corner, Luke Ayling heading straight at Raya.
Despite the compactness of the ground and the pitch, Leeds were finding space in the middle and subsequently down both flanks, winning corners and keeping play in the right area. The visitors’ early joy quietened the home crowd, who never really made it the cauldron of noise ex-Leeds player Pontus Jansson – missing from action of late through injury – called for in his programme notes, but a couple of promising moments brought them to life, one of which was a fierce Christian Norgaard shot that whistled past Kiko Casilla’s right-hand post.
Then disaster struck, yet again, for the United keeper, who let a routine back-pass slip from under his foot, fell over and could only watch in despair as Said Benrahma scored the easiest goal of his career.
Leeds fans behind the goal held their heads in their hands as all the Whites’ good early work was undone.
Casilla has been guilty of more errors since the 3-3 draw against Cardiff than in all the games leading up to that encounter and although he has continued to enjoy his head coach’s backing, he’s yet to fully reward that faith.
At Forest he was suspect when a near post shot beat him all too easily, at Brentford he was bang to rights.
The team’s response to going behind in such a manner was positive.
They were straight back on the attack, Pablo Hernandez’s volley palmed over the top by Raya. The away fans were back in full voice.
It did take Leeds time to fully recover their rhythm after the goal, Hernandez and Bamford were guilty of heavy touches that let Brentford off the hook.
Sloppy play provoked the ire of Ayling, who dished out a few rollickings, and with Kalvin Phillips dialling in his big switch to Harrison on the left flank, the Whites began to tick again.
After the defeat at Forest on Saturday, Marcelo Bielsa had vowed to keep searching for answers to his team’s problems and one area of concern all season has been corners, specifically the lack of goals they bring.
Step forward Harrison, whose first effort almost found Phillips at the back post. His second was dropped by Raya and captain Liam Cooper stabbed the ball into the net to break all the tension around his team and finally give the travelling Whites something to celebrate. It was the perfect time to chip in with his first goal of the season.
It was Brentford who suddenly had big problems, Stuart Dallas finding Helder Costa in an acre of space at the back post, the Portuguese heading just past the far post.
Leeds ended the half on top and shaded the early stages of the second period.
But it was largely end to end, a frantic, manic spell that could only be truly enjoyed by a neutral with no skin in the game which brought chances for each side.
Ayling found Patrick Bamford, who had struggled to make an impact on the game, and he almost looked surprised by the delivery or the space he had in the area, heading well over. For Brentford, a second ball in after a corner caused chaos in the Leeds area, but they survived.
The Whites began to wrestle control of it, a quick break down the right almost creating a one-on-one scenario before Costa squandered the chance with a tame shot. Bamford too was wasteful, hammering a half-volley into the stand behind Brentford’s goal.
Phillips continued to dominate, picking up the ball in space and getting his side moving, or jumping forward to press and intercept, like when he legally clattered Josh Dasilva, who soon limped off.
With 14 minutes to go Bielsa introduced Jean-Kevin Augustin and the Frenchman’s first impact was to wind up a huge back swing for a shot, connecting powerfully not with the ball but Julian Jeanvier, the defender requiring treatment.
The game continued to go in Leeds’ favour, they won more corners, Hernandez almost rescued a poor individual performance with a shot from the edge of the box that was deflected just over, but as much as the visitors desperately wanted a winner, there was an element of satisfaction when the final whistle went.
The character that has been called into question of late was very much in evidence at Griffin Park and if any team showed fear over the course of the 90 minutes, it was not Bielsa’s Leeds.