Leeds United and Wolves fixture computer joke leaves Javi Gracia laughing - Graham Smyth's Verdict

If the Premier League's fixture computer throws Wolves and Leeds United together at Molineux on March 18 next year then we'll know that it's not only become sentient but developed a cracking sense of humour.
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A second Whites lightning strike in as many visits was conducted by a goalscoring trio who struck on the very same date last year, handing Javi Gracia's men a 4-2 victory and three points that powered them up into 14th.

Like its 2022 predecessor, the 2023 meeting featured a Wolves red card and goals from Jack Harrison, Luke Ayling and Rodrigo. Rasmus Kristensen finding the net too, seconds after coming on as a substitute, was every bit as unlikely as all the aforementioned similarities.

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How deserved a win it was could be debated from here until March 18 2024, not that Leeds will care or even engage with it. The bus was started in the wake of Rodrigo's stoppage-time insurance goal and they were up the road before Wolves could clear their heads and come to terms with what had happened.

For a team who all too often this season have performed well, missed chances and failed to pick up victories, a win, especially one that came thanks to a four-goal haul from just four shots on target was as welcome as it was uncharacteristic.

Leeds were missing Tyler Adams and how they missed him, Marc Roca and Weston McKennie unable to keep up entirely with their injured colleague's work-load in the middle of the park. Leeds were poor in possession, inviting pressure with wayward or backward passes. Leeds creaked on the flanks, Ayling and Junior Firpo coming under attack repeatedly. Leeds got away with a few, a Firpo challenge in the area could easily have resulted in a penalty and Illan Meslier was called upon on a number of occasions to make vital last-ditch saves. Leeds won 4-2, so none of that really mattered.

At this stage of the season, when you're second from bottom with just five wins to your name, any kind of victory will do. And having frustrated their head coach with the way in which they attacked in the 2-2 draw with Brighton a week prior, Leeds were clinical in the extreme. Balance is what Gracia seeks but he’ll take results like this however they come.

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Willy Gnonto, restored to the starting line-up after impressive substitute cameos, was central to a good start. Three times the ball was sent out to the winger by Robin Koch in the opening minutes and the little Italian duly produced three crosses. The first was defended, the second cleared and the third one stroked into the net by Harrison.

LAST LAUGH - Leeds United and Wolves played out another ridiculous Molineux meeting on March 18. Pic: GettyLAST LAUGH - Leeds United and Wolves played out another ridiculous Molineux meeting on March 18. Pic: Getty
LAST LAUGH - Leeds United and Wolves played out another ridiculous Molineux meeting on March 18. Pic: Getty

Then came the first big VAR intervention, David Coote deciding that Firpo's tackle on Nélson Semedo was not worthy of a spot-kick. Wolves, not for the last time on a madcap afternoon, were convinced of their injustice. Meslier made the first of his big interventions, saving from Daniel Podence, Max Wober clearing from the goalmouth as Pedro Neto followed up.

It was scrappy and Leeds were scrapping but struggling. Ayling struggled with Podence and Jonny, taking a harsh booking that made his life all the more difficult. Wober blocked a goal-bound Semedo effort and Roca's decision to play backwards played into the hosts' hands, another half chance falling their way.

McKennie took a swing from the edge of the area and sent the ball into the stand as Leeds restored a little balance. Referee Michael Salisbury was given a decision to make when the already-cautioned Craig Dawson hauled down Patrick Bamford, but the only things he wrote in his notebook prior to the break were the names of Firpo and McKennie.

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Gracia went screaming down the tunnel at half-time, incensed by officiating, and the two teams came screaming back out onto the pitch, each putting the ball in the net from corners within five minutes of the restart. Wolves' was chalked off for offside but Leeds' - a stooping header from an unmarked Ayling - stood.

All common sense was duly abandoned as Wolves went for it and great big spaces opened up. Pablo Sarabia's big chance at one end, sidefooted wide, was followed by a Harrison shot at the other that needed to be blocked on the line, Roca following up with a strike that fell the wrong side of the post.

Gracia's first change was a curious one, in keeping with the incomprehensible nature of the game until it made perfect sense of itself. On came Kristensen, not for Ayling but for Gnonto. Seconds later it was 3-0, Kristensen taking his first four touches in the Wolves area and firing home from an acute angle.

The Dane formed part of a flat back five, Leeds preparing for an onslaught that tested their mettle and their luck.

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A ball through the middle brought Meslier out of his area to head clear, Roca could only send the ball in the direction of Jonny and he curled home a volley from miles out.

On and on they came, Meslier saving twice in quick succession, once with his back side from Sarabia's backheel and once from a Jimenez attempt. Adama Traore, on as a substitute, was tearing past Firpo and a second goal felt inevitable. It arrived via a wicked deflection that wrong-footed Meslier, Matheus Cunha, another replacement, the man behind the shot.

Molineux was bouncing, Leeds were rocking and Firpo needed help. When Wolves managed to get two men free on Firpo's flank, Meslier had to come up big again to deny Sarabia with a point-blank save.

Gracia responded with Pascal Struijk, to nullify Traore, and Crysencio Summerville, to make better use of the ball. Before either substitution could really take effect VAR got back into it, giving Salisbury a second chance to give Jonny a red card for an awful challenge on Ayling.

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Being down to 10 men didn't much deter the hosts but it did open up even more space for Leeds to counter into and with 97 minutes played Summerville, who was excellent, fed Rodrigo who ran in on Jose Sa, dinked him and allowed the bus driver to turn the key.

A VAR check for a potential foul in the build-up briefly threatened Leeds' two-goal lead but it wasn't enough and as Wolves lost their heads - unused substitute Matheus Nunes earning a red card for dissent - Gracia and the visitors kept theirs. The full-time whistle had the Spaniard and Leeds smiling and laughing while Wolves fumed.

It was madness from start to finish, a joke of a fixture and the kind you can never really make sense of but one whose importance is obvious. There is a long way to go and a lot of work to do but the fixture computer's March 18 2024 dream lives on.