Graham Smyth's Verdict: At Preston North End, Eddie Nketiah rescued Leeds United from the spectre at the feast haunting their season

The spectre at the feast that has haunted Leeds United since before this season even began was threatening to deliver yet another nightmare until Eddie Nketiah came to the rescue.

Wednesday, 23rd October 2019, 6:00 am
Nketiah celebrating his late leveller (Pic: Getty)

Ten minutes after he climbed off the bench, the man on loan from Arsenal climbed high into the Lancashire air to head the ball up and over Declan Rudd to give Leeds a point from a 1-1 draw with Preston North End.

They could have left Deepdale with all three. Equally, they could have left with none.

Their profligacy in front of goal looked to have cost them dearly again when, against the run of play, Tom Barkhuizen tapped in to finish off a counter attack and put the Lilywhites ahead on 77 minutes.

That was Nketiah's cue to enter the stage and replace Patrick Bamford, who might not have slept a wink after a torrid evening in front of goal.

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The 87th minute goal that Nketiah scored sparked pandemonium in an away end packed full of more than 5,000 Leeds fans.

It also amplified the calls for him to start either in place of or alongside Bamford in the Leeds United attack.

Bamford was his usual hard working self, he once again did everything bar score, yet the five chances that came his way should have yielded at least one goal and could have brought him a hat-trick. That would have silenced his critics.

Instead, he handed them a megaphone with misses that began inside the first five minutes.

A corner won by Helder Costa was sent to the back post by Kalvin Phillips and Bamford headed well wide.

The striker had another go before the clock showed 10 minutes, getting on the end of a move started deep in the Leeds half, taking a Stuart Dallas pass and firing into the side netting while off balance.

Preston caused Leeds a few problems with their pressing and the quick, tidy football they produced in the final third, albeit failing to test Kiko Casilla.

United moved the ball swiftly themselves, getting the ball wide to Jack Harrison and Helder Costa who threatened with pace and trickery without producing deliveries.

Chances did come however and they continued to fall to Bamford.

Another Phillips corner found Bamford in the heart of the area and this time his header cleared the bar.

A minute later Harrison's through ball released Dallas, he was blocked in the penalty box and the ball broke to Bamford, Ben Davies' perfectly timed tackle preventing a shot that would surely have broken the deadlock.

As Leeds looked to the flanks to progress play up the pitch, Preston went right through the middle, a couple of clever balls forward forcing Casilla to rush to the edge of his box and clear in the nick of time.

The visitors' best move of the half saw them work it from right to left, a lovely switch in play allowing Harrison to tee up Alioski, who drove a daisy-cutter inches past the far post.

The North Macedonian had another sight of goal two minutes after the restart, Leeds finally varying their corner routine and going short, Phillips' low pass dummied by Klich, Alioski's first shot blocked, his second curling away from goal.

Having started the half really well, Leeds lost their way a little briefly, a lack of care in possession putting them under pressure until they wrestled back the momentum and created another chance, Luke Ayling's cross to the far post finding Harrison whose sidefoot effort was the wrong side of the woodwork.

The Lilywhites did well to make the game a little more frenetic than Leeds might have liked and yet still, the best chances fell to the away side.

Costa produced his best dribble of the night and slipped the ball to Klich who pulled it back for Bamford, the striker haplessly stumbling as he connected, the effort going all the way across the pitch for a throw.

Leeds consistently failed to produce good deliveries from wide positions all night and when Alioski sent one straight at a defender, Preston took full advantage, playing the ball into the area the defender had left unguarded, substitute Sean Maguire crossing for Barkhuizen to tap in the opener.

It was a goal as surprising as it was simple and clinical, in stark contrast to the Whites' own efforts.

Bielsa made an attacking double substitution, sending on Nketiah and Tyler Roberts, replacing Bamford and Gaetano Berardi, but Leeds were on the defensive in the wake of the goal.

Maguire brought a save from Casilla at his near post and Barkhuizen headed the subsequent corner over the top.

Nketiah soon made his mark, however, winning a free-kick 30 yards from goal that led to the equaliser.

Phillips' shot was blocked by the wall, but the ball ended up at the feet of Harrison and his cross to the back post was headed over Rudd and into the net.

It wasn't an easy chance by any stretch yet he made it look second nature, despite his lack of height.

The ball was back in the Preston box in time added on, Roberts controlling the ball and then hitting the deck, provoking loud appeals that Kevin Friend turned away before blowing up for full-time.

Bielsa said after the game that he doesn't believe the debate surrounding his two strikers to be healthy for either of them and once again reiterated his believe that they are yet to prove they can play together.

He is content to play the long game, feeling he should wait to either discover a solution he is entirely happy with, or until he is forced into such a decision by circumstance.

Nketiah might feel his goal is all the circumstance the head coach needs.

Leeds fans will feel that with a January recall by Arsenal a possibility, however remote, Bielsa must get this one spot on. If not, it could come back to haunt him.