If the league positions of these two clubs is a surprise to anyone, last night’s game at Elland Road explained a great deal. Mid-table sides engaged in mid-table football, culminating in a 1-1 draw and another error from Giuseppe Bellusci.
A very competent debut from Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Leeds United’s 19-year-old goalkeeper, took most of the attention on a subdued evening and it was not necessarily a bad thing that 70 minutes of Queens Park Rangers’ visit passed without anyone lighting the touchpaper. Leeds can do without the spectacular when the spectacular looks as bad as it did at Rotherham on Saturday.
United’s defeat there and the debacle which brought about the dismissal of Marco Silvestri, affording Peacock-Farrell his chance, must have given the teenager sleepless nights but he was treated with care by Steve Evans’ defence until Bellusci conceded a penalty two minutes from time and did nothing to suggest his debut had been premature. The first port of call at Elland Road was a steady outing for him.
For the crowd and Evans, the sight of the first academy keeper to start a competitive match for Leeds since Scott Carson 12 years ago was the talking point on an evening which demonstrated why United and QPR are behind the standards of the Championship’s top half. Peacock-Farrell had one meaningful effort to save before half-time. At the other end, Alex Smithies had two. The match took an hour to find its rhythm.
Leeds pressed with more purpose than QPR and a clever pass from Luke Murphy gave Chris Wood a tap-in 20 minutes from time. His finish should have settled the contest against a toothless Rangers side but substitute Tjaronn Chery levelled from the spot after Bellusci – the villain of the piece at Rotherham – bundled into the back of Sebastian Polter as injury-time approached.
United would have merited a win but much of the contest was a quiet affair, set in motion by a minute’s silence in memory of Christopher Loftus and Kevin Speight, the Leeds supporters killed in Istanbul in April 2000.
The result carried Evans’ squad closer to mathematical safety – the stage at which he intends to ask owner Massimo Cellino to honour his promise of a new contract – but he and and QPR manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink can feel their campaigns petering out. For Leeds, it is seven games and counting.
The irony of Peacock-Farrell’s enforced debut was that he had more time to dwell on the prospect than he might have done in different circumstances.
Evans had planned to blood him before the end of the season but was still to pick the time for that opportunity. Silvestri’s dismissal at Rotherham United meant Peacock-Farrell knew the lie of the land from Saturday night onwards.
If that decision was simple for Evans, others were more delicate. Bellusci kept his place despite a shocking error at Rotherham and Sol Bamba was a more unlikely victim in the centre of defence. Leeds said Bamba had been dropped to the bench because of illness. Peacock-Farrell and Liam Cooper were two of five changes, alterations which also accounted for Mirco Antenucci, Alex Mowatt and Toumani Diagouraga.
A low-key start protected Peacock-Farrell from any sudden examination and the contest went as it was always likely to between two sides with little left to play for. QPR, under Hasselbaink, are floating just above Leeds in mid-table and need the summer for a chance to rethink and regroup. Hasselbaink made enemies in Yorkshire when he quit United amid wrangling over money in 1999 but the Dutchman was afforded a warm reception last night, no longer worthy of critical attention.
His side took almost 15 minutes to find a way into Peacock-Farrell’s box but they caused trouble as soon as they did, primarily because of the defence in front of him. A Matt Phillips cross was sliced by Bellusci towards the back post where Gaetano Berardi – bandaged up after his bloody outing at Rotherham – knocked another stray touch behind. A couple of clearances strayed out of play at Peacock-Farrell showed a hint of nerves.
What flow there was suffered further disruption when QPR lost Jamie Mackie to injury, moments after he had taken out Bellusci as the Italian shielded a loose ball over the byline. Hasselbaink replaced the striker with German Sebastian Polter but there was little for either attack to feed on. Chris Wood was forced to make himself a chance in the 25 minute by wriggling into space on the edge of QPR’s area but his shot hit a leg and flew behind.
Mustapha Carayol did likewise with a break down the left but Alex Smithies, so often prone to errors in games against Leeds, held on safely to the winger’s low effort. QPR in response were limited for most of the half to a shot from Matt Phillips which careered well wide and rattled the advertising boards and a dinked effort from Junior Hoilett which dipped over the crossbar. A chance for Leeds to attack three on three came to nothing as Lewis Cook’s backheel rolled away from Stuart Dallas.
By half-time Peacock-Farrell had seen out the first 45 minutes with only one save of note to make, a diving stop from Hoilett who found enough space to have a go from 25 yards. That statistic did more credit to Evans’ defence than their general performance at Rotherham and Rangers made no inroads after the break. Leeds pressed with more intent and Murphy came close to claiming a goal on 55 minutes.
The midfielder, whose deflected goal had briefly brought United back into Saturday’s clash with Rotherham, popped on the edge of the box as Cook played a pass in from the left but Smithies read his attempt to bend the ball inside his far post and claimed the ball. Dallas should also have done better than slice an attempt wide when Carayol’s lay-off teed him up perfectly on 57 minutes
There were fleeting openings at the other end but Polter headed the best of them past a post and Leeds perseverance drew a deserved goal 20 minutes from time. Murphy’s perfect ball over the top found Smithies dithering on his line and Wood nipped into stab the ball under him and claim his first goal since December.
QPR had not looked like beating United to the opener and were never close to replying to it until Bellusci ruined a sensible outing by knocking over Polter just inside United’s area.
Chery faced off with Peacock-Farrell and denied the teenager a moment of glory with a fierce finish into the top corner.