Growing Leeds United schism threatens to engulf Javi Gracia - Graham Smyth's Leicester draw Verdict

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Elland Road didn't quite know what to do with itself when Paul Tierney blew the final whistle on a 1-1 draw between Leeds United and Leicester City.

Not quite bad enough to prompt wholesale protest and certainly not good enough to fuel fresh optimism over an escape from relegation, the game's result was met with a mixed response. Some booed, some clapped, some chanted, briefly, about director of football Victor Orta. Even if a number of individuals knew exactly how they felt and how they wanted to express it, the fanbase as a whole didn't seem to know how to feel about this game.

But they know exactly how they feel about this season, one that cannot end soon enough, one that will soon end and reveal whether or not this point was enough.

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When the fun stops, stop, as the gambling awareness slogan goes and this game, like this campaign, delivered precious little enjoyment.

Leeds backed the wrong horse in Jesse Marsch, throwing money at signings to play his football, and now they are counting the cost with five games to go and two points separating them from the bottom three. The table is every bit as bleak as the set of performances that have placed Leeds in 16th and the outlook for the remainder of the season, given the difficulty of the final five fixtures.

Fans who don't know where the necessary wins are coming from or what the summer will bring either way, at least appeared to share some common knowledge on Tuesday night. They know that they do not agree with Javi Gracia on team selection.

For the sixth game in succession Gracia did not start with Willy Gnonto. The first game in that run was out of his hands, for Gnonto was injured on international duty. For the second and possibly third games he was protecting Gnonto in light of that injury, using him only as a late substitute. But last week, ahead of the trip to Fulham, Gracia revealed that Gnonto was fully fit and available. At Craven Cottage, in a game Leeds were losing, Gnonto played the final 10 minutes.

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There was no huge expectation that the 19-year-old would make it into the starting line-up to face Leicester, only a hope that having gambled and lost on his selection at the weekend, Gracia would finally roll the dice on Gnonto. The head coach’s lack of real explanation for why the youngster has not featured more did little to whet the appetite.

BIG MOMENT - Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford had the game's winner on his boot and sent the ball wide, letting Leicester City off the hook in the relegation battle. Pic: GettyBIG MOMENT - Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford had the game's winner on his boot and sent the ball wide, letting Leicester City off the hook in the relegation battle. Pic: Getty
BIG MOMENT - Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford had the game's winner on his boot and sent the ball wide, letting Leicester City off the hook in the relegation battle. Pic: Getty

The line-up did bear changes, different faces, and it had to after such an insipid display. Luis Sinisterra, Luke Ayling and Rodrigo got the nod to come in, with Junior Firpo a necessary addition to take the place of the injured Max Wober. Gnonto remained on the bench.

Any grumbles over the team soon gave way when the game kicked off in an incredible atmosphere. A bag of nerves, yes, but loud still. Even when disaster struck early, or rather an elaborate hoax - VAR's offside line rendered Youri Tielemans' top corner thunderbolt a bomb scare rather than a Leeds implosion - the crowd stayed with the team, living and dying with every action.

Liam Cooper's last-ditch tackle on Harvey Barnes and James Maddison's near-miss at the back post kept it 0-0 but did little to quell the unease. It took a goal to do that.

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Jack Harrison had already produced a bit of the wing wizardry Leicester thought they would be enjoying in the second half of this season, producing a decent cross that Sinisterra couldn't control. Their second attempt at a link-up was perfect. One winger cut inside, curled the ball deep to the back post and the other rose to thump a header downward and goalward. Sinisterra's seventh of the season felt, looked and sounded like the most significant.

It pumped up the crowd and Rodrigo steaming into tackles pumped them up further, only for a 32nd minute deflation. Down went Sinisterra after a challenge and on came Crysencio Summerville. Gnonto stayed on the bench. Or rather he stayed down by the corner flag warming up, having emerged from the dugout to a pointed, rapturous welcome.

To his credit, Summerville showed all the heart and desire the occasion called for, sliding into challenges, winning the ball back and tracking deep into his own half to defend.

There was no lack of fight from Leeds all over the pitch, if anything there was a little too much at times. Ayling went into the book for a lunge. Rodrigo eventually saw yellow for persistent fouling.

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The first half ended with the hosts a goal to the good, well placed to go on and complete a seismic victory but Leeds fans know that it's never that simple, not with a team who just don't control matches.

Had Rodrigo shot earlier on his right foot after a clever spin in the area, perhaps this might have been a different story, alas his tame, delayed effort was blocked and Leicester took over.

With a long spell of pressure that had begun to yield a chance or two, Leicester asked a question of Gracia, one the fans themselves were asking. He needed to change it, somehow, someway to wrestle his side out from under the cosh. Leeds were getting a foot in but needed a foot on the ball with 30 minutes left.

On 68 Brenden Aaronson came on for Rodrigo, with the sound of a less-than-enthusiastic West Stand response in his ears and a whole-stadium chorus of the Gnonto song to follow.

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For all the American's hustle and harry, he and Leeds found themselves on the back foot and Illan Meslier had to come up with a big double save, not knowing the offside flag would go up after the second effort. With 15 to go he threw himself at Kelechi Iheanacho's feet and it was the keeper's name ringing out around the ground. Elland Road sensed the need for its input, because Leeds were creaking. The fight was still there, there was just no quality, no real possession to alleviate the stress other than some hopeful punts towards the channels.

No sooner had the East Stand rose to its feet to acclaim the pressing and tackling of Aaronson and Harrison that won a throw-in, that Leicester won one of their own, in their own half, and went on to score from it.

A lost aerial duel, a rash, late challenge on Iheanacho that still didn't stop him releasing the ball, a blindside run completely missed and a through-ball not cut out led to substitute Jamie Vardy beating Meslier.

As the offside flag went up to deny Vardy a second it was difficult not to reflect on the weekly dread that has started to engulf the big players in opposition teams. Players you know can and will cause problems. The inevitable ones. Eberechi Eze. Mo Salah. Vardy. It was difficult not to wonder why Gnonto, often enough a thorn in defenders' sides to put him in that sort of category, was not on the pitch.

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"Make a sub, make a sub, make a sub," sang home fans at Gracia, what was a fissure in the relationship with their head coach becoming a schism.

A winner might have bridged the gap, even temporarily, but neither Marc Roca nor Patrick Bamford could find the net when found unmarked four yards out from a pair of corners. Gracia felt the Roca chance was the one. The crowd's reaction to Bamford's said different.

And at full-time their reaction said it all about this result. Could have been worse, just. Could have been so much better. As the most winnable-looking of the last six games, it needed to be.

Gracia said after that he understood fan frustration but, again, his thoughts on Gnonto never strayed far from ground that is far from common when it comes to the supporters and theirs. He had many options, he chose others, they’re all good players and deciding is his job. Without a reasoning that is deemed acceptable in the stands, the issue threatens to become a rod for his back, one of his own creation.

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It would be very Leeds for them to be written off on the back of this run, only to pull out a result from nowhere to restore hope. It will take something like that for the manager and the fans to be United again. Gracia, with or without Gnonto, needs to win them back pronto because when Elland Road decides time is up, it knows exactly what to do.

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