Ipswich Town last night was Brentford on Saturday revisited and on this occasion there was no magic from Mirco Antenucci and no sign of an equaliser. A second crisis of confidence in four days was one too many for Leeds United.
Uwe Rosler wanted to make the most of these fixtures, to address a home record which is starting to cause concern, but the concession of the opening goal in both games exposed fragile nerves in his camp.
Leeds overcame them to take a draw from Brentford but Ipswich, in Mick McCarthy’s mould, had the conviction to defend a 1-0 lead.
United succumbed to their first league defeat.
Both games followed a similar theme; separated by nothing until Leeds fell behind in the first half and started to doubt themselves badly.
Ipswich were the last club to lose at Elland Road, back at the beginning of March, and the stadium began to look like a hard venue for Leeds to play in after Tommy Smith scored the only goal of last night’s game.
The defender’s strike was frustratingly soft, headed in from point-blank range in the 31st minute after Marco Silvestri came to attack a corner and missed his punch. Silvestri has had a few difficult moments this season but none so costly as his misjudgement last night.
Rosler was left to reflect that without a defensive error second earlier, the corner would not have been conceded in the first place.
A reply did not look like coming, though a big shout for a late penalty was waved away by referee James Adcock who shocked Elland Road by choosing to book Sam Byram for diving instead.
The result ended United’s unbeaten run in their seventh Championship match and turned their season in the direction which Rosler wanted to avoid.
Five draws and a win from six fixtures placed Leeds on the cusp of a very healthy run but last night’s result soured their start.
A win at MK Dons this weekend would do them the world of good.
Rosler was under pressure to start Antenucci after his equaliser against Brentford and the Italian duly made his line-up.
The change made no less sense than the inclusion of Luke Murphy, a calming head in the centre of midfield for as long as Leeds were level.
Four days on from his stout defence of the tactics he has pursued since his appointment, United’s head coach saw what many had seen in Saturday’s 1-1 draw.
With Byram out of the team, Stuart Dallas was given the freedom of the right wing and much of United’s pressure in the opening half-hour came from his partnership with Gaetano Berardi.
Ipswich’s style was largely identical, albeit with more pace out wide, and both teams took turns to attack the flanks in a highly-competitive period.
Antenucci and Lewis Cook found early space inside Ipswich’s box – the latter dispossessed by a crucial covering tackle from Smith – while David McGoldrick saw a shot blocked at the other end as he tried to stab the ball into the far corner of Silvestri’s net.
The pace of the game encouraged mistakes and stretched both defences. Cook repeated Smith’s earlier trick by chasing down Ainsley Maitland-Niles after Sol Bamba misdirected a header in field from the touchline and Smith received the benefit of the doubt when Wood’s cross appeared to strike his arm a yard inside Ipswich’s penalty area.
The appeal on 18 minutes was strong enough to make Adcock think.
In their better spells, Leeds asked more questions than Ipswich and more than they had against Brentford. What they found was a backline which, while pierced five times at Reading last week, had clearly been given a going-over by McCarthy.
Crosses in behind Town’s backline were a problem but lacked the runners to take advantage. Antenucci’s deflected strike on 27 minutes, catching the heel of Christophe Berra and running straight to Dean Gerken, was the game’s first effort on target.
Berardi had a go from a longer range on 29 minutes, slicing the ball wide with a shot which spoke of a match crying out for clearer opportunities and when Ipswich’s scored against the run of play on 33 minutes, it was through a chance entirely of United’s making.
A defensive mix-up saw Liam Cooper nod a header behind as Silvestri came to collect the ball and when Silvestri flapped at Fraser’s corner, a header back across goal gave Smith the job of nodding the ball home. No more than three yards out, the centre-back could not believe his luck.
As they had on Saturday, United struggled to cope with that and Silvestri was rattled too.
A risky clearance to the edge of his box almost invited another concession as Ipswich tried to flatten an anxious team and Rosler needed half-time when it came.
Ipswich, still, seemed to sense a victory at hand. Maitland-Niles should have scored for a second time in the 50th minute when a clearing header from Cooper found him unmarked but the winger’s side-footed finish flew straight at Silvestri.
Either side of the keeper would have beaten him hands down.
McGoldrick and Fraser had other chances and Rosler made his first move on the hour, pulling Dallas from the fray and turning back to Byram.
Cook saw an opening soon after, breaking upfield before lashing Wood’s return pass beyond Gerken’s goal, but more concerted pressure came around Silvestri’s net.
Fraser whipped a shot past his far post at an angle and a looping header from Daryl Murphy dropped just over the crossbar with 19 minutes left.
The failure to kill Leeds off would have infuriated McCarthy had his team caved in late on but while Elland Road did not expect an equaliser, Adcock’s decision to side with Knudsen when Byram went down in front of the left-back on 85 minutes incensed the crowd and every one of United’s players.
It was not their night.