Graham Smyth's Verdict: Leeds United lacking spark and magic as rain dampens fire of Yorkshire derby at Sheffield Wednesday

The goalless Yorkshire derby between Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United was like a slow moving pendulum, swinging to and fro, right to left with unerring balance.

Sunday, 27th October 2019, 5:00 am
Ben White halting the progress of Adam Reach with a vital tackle at a rain soaked Hillsborough (Pic: Getty)

That's not to say it was end-to-end or even particularly exciting, the two sides taking it in turns to have protracted spells of momentum and pressure.

But overall as a contest it was just about as even as a game could be.

The Whites were, eventually, better in the first half and the Owls got the best of it in the second half.

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Both sides hit the woodwork, both goalkeepers produced a world class save, both sides were left infuriated by referee Tim Robinson deciding against them at potentially pivotal moments.

Leeds should have had a penalty, Ben White bundled to the ground in the Owls box by Atdhe Nuhiu, Joey Pelupessy was later poleaxed by an Eddie Nketiah elbow.

A point was a fair result, a fact recognised by Marcelo Bielsa, although Garry Monk felt the scale of his side's second half dominance perhaps deserved more than a share of the spoils.

Even the post-match discussion failed to raise the collective pulse on a derby day when passion rarely even threatened to spill over, on or off the pitch.

Marcelo Bielsa seemed to accept that a point was a fair result. His opposite number was a little disappointed that the Owls didn't win it (Pic: Getty)

The only remotely eyebrow-raising moment of Bielsa's press conference was the interjection of a Spanish speaking journalist who elicited thoughts on the Chilean political climate from the United head coach, formerly in charge of La Roja.

The atmosphere at Hillsborough before kick-off was a little flat, any potential fire and brimstone dampened by the heavy rain that came down relentlessly.

Leeds' early performance was also lacking spark, the Whites struggling to get on the front foot in the first 10 minutes, barring a crossing chance wasted by Helder Costa.

The Portuguese was unable to produce much of note throughout the contest, never mind the kind of invention Leeds have been missing since Pablo Hernandez picked up a September injury.

Wednesday won little battles all over the pitch, allowing them to try and put balls in behind or break on Leeds, Ben White having to track back to halt Adam Reach in the penalty area after the Owls latched onto a poor header from Mateusz Klick, another who struggled to make anything happen all afternoon.

Kiko Casilla got down smartly to Liam Palmer's stinging low drive and when Leeds cleared the resulting corner, they broke upfield and enjoyed a little spell, winning a corner of their own that almost reached Luke Ayling six yards out.

With 19 minutes gone Robinson had his first major decision to make, White, up for a corner, tricking his way to the byline and going down under the challenge of Nuhiu, the referee unmoved despite replays suggesting there was sufficient contact.

Leeds began to gain momentum, Kalvin Phillips forcing them up the field, Costa seeing plenty of ball on one side, Gjanni Alioski getting forward on the other.

There was, too often, a lack of quality in Leeds' work when they reached the final third, ruining moves they developed from deep, players working hard to create space for team-mates who would then run into a blue and white wall in and around the box.

Phillips' running battle with Barry Bannan in the centre of the pitch was the height of the entertainment for a time, so sparse was the goalmouth action at either end.

Yet the half finally sprang to life in its final seconds, both goalkeepers suddenly having to produce sublime stops.

Casilla flew through the air to tip Steven Fletcher's long range thunderbolt over the top before Leeds broke, Harrison scooping a delightful outside-of-the-boot cross to the back post where Bamford lost his marker and headed the ball towards the far corner, Keiren Westwood somehow keeping it out. The look of on Bamford's face said as much about the save as any replay could.

That look may well have remained on his face when, at half-time, he was informed that Nketiah was to replace him.

Both sides continued to wrestle with the conditions after the break but managed to create good early chances.

At one end, Harrison teased the defence and fed Phillips, his 25-yarder not quite curling enough to find the net.

At the other, Wednesday cut the Leeds defence apart with quick passing, Morgan Fox pinging the ball into Fletcher whose first time shot cannoned off the crossbar, hit Casilla and bounced wide.

Leeds had a let off of a different kind when Nketiah caught Pelupessy with his elbow, Robinson allowing play to go on so Nketiah could find Harrison whose shot was blocked. Wednesday were furious that not only had the blow gone unpunished, they almost conceded with a player down with a head injury.

Fuelled by that righteous indignation, they poured forward and began to put real pressure on United.

Bannan was at the heart of it all, first volleying a pass through for Reach who took it too early and fired wide, then crossing to the back post where Fletcher met the ball but couldn't turn it home.

A low blast from Nketiah, straight at Westwood and dealt with, was a rare moment of promise for Leeds during a period spent predominantly in their own half.

They came again however, in the wake of a tactical change that saw Liam Cooper return in the centre of defence, allowing both Ayling and Stuart Dallas to push forward on the right.

Nketiah's skill and pace left a defender in his wake and he pulled the ball back for Harrison whose shot was blocked, before Phillips whipped in a ball from the right and Alioski headed against the crossbar.

The constant threat presented by Kadeem Harris on the left meant Leeds and Casilla could not relax for a second.

He whipped in a cross that looked goalbound until the United keeper tipped it wide, the subsequent corner headed down by Nuhiu, Casilla beating it away, Leeds surviving by the skin of their teeth.

That was it as far as chances went, the two sets of supporters squelching off into the mid-afternoon gloom feeling neither aggrieved or enormously satisfied.

A lack of goals - Leeds haven't scored twice in a game in seven attempts - continues to hang over the Whites like a grey cloud.

They progress the ball quickly and efficiently from back to front, passing it nicely until the edge of the box where there is a tendency for it all to fall down; crosses hitting the first man, hesitancy allowing defenders to block shots, organised defences standing firm under the pressure.

The bright side is a Leeds defence that continues to perform admirably, a defence that creates a platform for results to be built.

The difficulty of each game in the Championship appears to be, like the English weather, an element outside of Bielsa's control.

Perhaps this is just the way it is going to be, grinding out points on the road, taking victories on the strength of single goals, until such a time as someone, anyone, introduces some magic, makes it rain goals and allows the sun to shine over Leeds United again.