Garry Monk tipped Bristol City as play-off candidates and on the evidence of last night he might just be right. Leeds United’s four-match winning streak ended at Ashton Gate and ended in a way which reminded the club of the room for the improvement they still have to make.
It was never Monk’s intention to paint United’s recent form with more significance than it deserved and their 1-0 defeat in Bristol might worry him less this morning than the hamstring strain which forced Pontus Jansson from the field at half-time. The centre-back did not reappear for the start of second half and it would be something of a surprise to see him play in Saturday’s derby at home to Barnsley. On that front Monk has his fingers crossed.
At the point where Jansson reluctantly made way, Leeds and Bristol City had no more than a cigarette paper between them but City turned the screw with the hour approaching and ended 60 goalless minutes as a bout of pressure told. The hosts’ dominance crept up on United and Marlon Pack was left free to chip a neat finish over Rob Green.
Leeds reversed the flow quickly and looked to Hadi Sacko’s pace for an equaliser but his running failed to make City crack and Chris Wood missed a close-range chance as the momentum of the game swung nervously.
Monk, who was sent to the stands at the death by referee Keith Stroud, will find some comfort in that late onslaught, alongside the disappointment of a soft defeat and wasteful finishing.
With the result went Leeds’ sequence of four wins but that run has given their season purpose and raised the bar after a bad first month.
United finished August in the clutches of the relegation zone but the club can reach the next international break inside the Championship’s top half. They are small steps, as their head coach always says, but steps forward all the same.
Monk at least has a line-up which is picking itself and it might have picked itself without Liam Bridcutt, even if the midfielder had made United’s 18 last night. In the end, the club’s captain was missing again with a foot injury which is keeping him out for longer than anyone expected. Much as Leeds have coped without him, an extended absence is not what Monk needs.
City were in similarly good fettle and Tammy Abraham’s recovery from a dead leg sustained at Fulham on Saturday left their team unchanged. Abraham was the Championship’s form striker after a quick run to 10 goals and Leeds showed some awareness of that in City’s very first attack, crowding three bodies around him as Joe Bryan flighted a cross into their box. They kept as close as they could to him until Abraham was substituted with 11 minutes to play.
Abraham was peripheral for much of the evening, despite City having the better of a scrappy start and finding their rhythm after half-time. At the other end, Wood found himself similarly isolated as the contest kept their goal tallies static. It was Lee Tomlin who came closest to an early goal, turning cleverly and shooting into the side netting after Leeds failed to deal with a long throw. The ripple of the net brought premature celebrations from the home crowd.
The lack of early chances, however, was not for the want of trying. Pablo Hernandez failed to tuck away United’s first of note when he ran onto Sacko’s cut-back at the edge of the box and dragged the ball a few yards wide. Sacko was less threatening with a volley which took a deflection and looped into the hands of goalkeeper Frank Fielding but the game did not lack intent. Before half-time it simply refused to click.
A big pitch, nonetheless, was tailor-made for Sacko and Stuart Dallas and the pair almost forced the opening goal in the 27th minute. Leeds made hard work of clearing another long throw but Dallas was waiting for the rebound and led a counter attack which a persistent Sacko tried to finish with a low strike. Fielding met it with both hands at his near post, beating the ball away.
There were other flashes of promise too, not least a one-two between Hernandez and Dallas which Dallas negated with a heavy touch as he ran free into City’s box, and enough in the first 45 minutes to make Monk think a victory was there to be had. Only once did Abraham shake himself free, with four minutes of the half to play, but his finish was wild and his refusal to slip the ball back to an unmarked and furious Bobby Reid underlined what Tomlin said last week about the on-loan Chelsea prodigy remembering the team around him. In the final seconds before the interval, Green denied Jamie Paterson with a fine diving parry after Paterson beat the offside trap and in an instant the game lost its temper. Pontus Jansson was booked for kicking the ball away and Tomlin and Stuart Dallas were lucky to receive no more than yellow cards after lashing out at each other as Leeds dealt with a corner. Before long, Stroud was having words with United assistant Pep Clotet on the touchline.
The set-back for Monk, largely unnoticed as Stroud blew for half-time, was Jansson pulling up and clutching a hamstring. The Swede had weighed in with his customary tackles and fought Abraham gamely but news of his invincibility has been exaggerated. Liam Cooper was put through a quick work-out during the break and replaced him for the second half.
Whether because of that change or regardless of it, City returned to the pitch with a spring in their step and began chipping away with more urgency. Their effort told on the hour as Hernandez’s claim for a foul on halfway was ignored by stroud and Tomlin steamed forward before slipping a pass to Pack.
The midfielder drew Green cleverly before lifting a clinical finish high into the net.
Ashton Gate urged United to cave in but Monk’s players steadied themselves and fought for a point. Sacko led the charge again as Leeds went through him repeatedly and his shot across Fielding on 63 minutes was inches from finding the net. A brilliant recovering tackle from Bryan forced the winger to shoot wide from close range moments later.
As time ticked away they made City hang on and Fielding dived to keep out a rare effort from Wood after City’s defence went missing in front of him on 75 minutes. To Wood’s left, a free Hernandez looked in vain for a pass and a tap-in and that moment contributed to the feeling that over the course of the evening an opportunity had been missed. As Monk’s frustration got the better of him, Stroud ordered him from his dug-out and a fixture which yielded two last-gasp goals for City last season refused to offer any similar drama.