There are results that sting as the final whistle blows and results that hurt long after the dust settles. A 2-2 draw at Bristol City fell into the second category as Leeds United cut their throats at the very moment when Uwe Rosler prepared to bank his first league win.
City’s football might well be admirable, to use the words of United’s head coach, but the Championship have fed on it ruthlessly so far and Leeds appeared to have done the same. Playing the opposition and following Uwe Rosler’s script to the letter, they sat on a 2-0 lead with a minute of normal time to play.
Rosler talked about City’s established system creating advantages and weaknesses in equal measure and Leeds found the weak spots as others have before them, soaking up persistent pressure before striking through a penalty earned on the counter-attack five minutes before half-time.
Mirco Antenucci put it away, holding his nerve on the night of a timely recall to United’s starting line-up and forcing City to stare down the barrel of another defeat, inflicted despite the best of intentions.
Chris Wood struck in similar circumstances the other side of the break, finishing beautifully seconds after Leeds had dealt with trouble in front of their own goal, and City’s manager, Steve Cotterill, cut a bewildered man as he surveyed the situation with 52 minutes gone.
His side stood at that moment as the only Championship club without a point and two were about to become five for United as time ticked away. Standing in the dug-out, Rosler was starting to think about the value of a promising start; better than good, considering the logistics of Leeds’ first fortnight.
But with 89 minutes gone, Kieran Agard – a player who briefly flirted with a transfer to Elland Road last summer before a disagreement over wages killed the move – drilled a low shot in off a post and the Alamo began. Five minutes into six of injury-time, Aden Flint made the most of fatigue and chaos in United’s box and struck a blow that Ashton Gate had not seen coming.
The performance of Rosler’s players before Agard’s intervention was counter-attacking of the highest order, producing goals at times when they were under the cosh. Rosler would like to bottle 95 per cent of this display but City celebrated the result like a proverbial win. For Leeds it did not have felt any better than a defeat.
Rosler has portrayed himself as a disciple of 4-3-3 ever since his appointment as head coach but he made a habit of stressing the need for a second way, or ‘plan B’ as he calls it. He turned to it yesterday, pairing Antenucci with Wood up front in response to a game at Reading which, while pleasing enough, was always ending goalless. Antenucci repaid his decision in spades.
The Italian’s inclusion was something of an inevitably, reflecting the form of a player who has been as sharp as any other since the season began. It made sense, too, to carry more threat against a City side who conceded nine goals in three previous games, albeit with 10 men against Brentford last weekend. Dangerous, was Rosler’s description of Cotterill’s squad. Other managers have found them to be leaky.
Rosler’s defence contrasted with that but he tweaked it again, naming Giuseppe Bellusci and Scott Wootton in place of Liam Cooper and Gaetano Berardi. He anticipated that Leeds might face a deluge of pressure and he was not wrong. The push for the opening goal came from City, without success before half-time. Cotterill is finding that scenario familiar. Bottom of the table and with Ashton Gate in the middle of a huge redevelopment, it was plain to see why City are trying to throw £9m at Brentford’s Andre Gray.
Sol Bamba dealt with a Joe Bryan cross in the second minute which curled towards the near post and needed only a touch from Aaron Wilbraham to knock it past Marco Silvestri and an offside flag stopped City in full flow as Kodjia and Fredericks tried to tuck a loose ball past Silvestri.
Fredericks had been booked by then for a clattering foul on Tom Adeyemi. Leeds seemed alive to the likelihood of an onslaught and in persistent rain they picked their chances to counter carefully.
A pass from Antenucci was stolen from in front of Adeyemi’s toes after United got the benefit of two refereeing decisions and caught most of City’s defence upfield and Adeyemi failed to keep a header under control as Kalvin Phillips curled a cross towards him on 22 minutes.
Flurries of chances came either side of lulls in the play. City could have struck twice in a minute, first when Kodjia smashed a shot against Silvestri and again when Stuart Dallas knocked Aden Flint’s header off the line. It seemed that something was bound to give as the half-hour came and went.
Silvestri was in position again to stop a Bryan strike with his legs but there was always the lingering promise of United picking Cotterill’s side off. When City made a mess of a pre-rehearsed free-kick 25 yards from Silvestri’s goal, Adeyemi tore down the left wing and failed by a fraction to present a pass at Antenucci’s feet. A far better opportunity nonetheless came with six minutes of the half to play.
United were treading water and defending a corner when Wood’s headed clearance sparked a quick break. The striker joined the attack and squared a pass to Antenucci who drew Hamer into a desperate dive and a clear foul. Far from goal, the trip merited only a booking.
Antenucci took the penalty and stuck if calmly to Hamer’s right, changing the mood of the ground instantly.
Wood threatened to add a second goal soon after, skipping past a couple of tackles before running into a wall, and Sam Byram made nothing of the sort of hanging header he often swallows up. There was a momentary lapse from Leeds still as, in the last minute of the half, Silvestri’s weak parry of Wilbraham’s shot gave Robinson a gift of a chance which the midfielder dragged wide.
Cotterill evidently ordered his squad to back themselves again in the second half and for seven minutes they did. Kodjia was inches away from volleying a Fredericks’ delivery into Silvestri net when – with Wilbraham injured and neither side willing to put the ball out of play – United covered the pitch in a flash and Antenucci slipped possession to Wood, giving him time to rifle a finish to the right of Hamer.
Game over on 52 minutes or so Rosler thought. The away end began to joke about “fire drills” in the home end but with 88 minutes gone, Agard drilled a shot from an angle off the inside of Silvestri’s near post and Ashton Gate woke up. The weight of City’s pressure became unbearable and towards the end of an inexplicably long period of injury-time, Silvestri parried a ricochet from a corner and Flint bundled the rebound into the Italian’s net. This will hurt as the sun comes up this morning.