THE Championship has rarely been more averse to drawn games and Leeds United are no exception to the rule but when the club’s grim run was at its height, Thomas Christiansen reminded his players that a point here and there was better than none.
Leeds banked one at Elland Road last night, against an Aston Villa side who no longer roll over as they did in their first season in the league, but the value of it was tinged by the realisation that United allowed a better result to slip.
There were comparisons with October’s defeat to Derby County as Leeds blew themselves out and let Villa steam into a game which was running away from them at half-time. By the closing minutes, Christiansen was more keen than Steve Bruce to hear the final whistle. Neither coach could argue with the result.
It had not been that way 45 minutes earlier, with Leeds threatening to treat Elland Road to a rare Villa demise.
United salvaged their confidence and equilibrium by beating Middlesbrough and Barnsley last week, no longer a charity case spilling points in every direction, but a win over Villa would have been different, a result which put United back in the tent.
Christiansen needed a result of any sort a fortnight ago, something to drag Leeds out of torrid form, but what he needed beyond that was a result against an improving Villa: a club with everything going for them.
Middlesbrough could be described as such but at no stage this season have they shown the nous which took Villa up to fourth in the Championship last weekend. Villa are locked and loaded, albeit without a handful of key players, but a bullet of a header from Pontus Jansson found them wanting in a first half when Leeds’ intensity was overwhelming. If this Villa team expect to hang around in the top six then that period gave United no reason to doubt their own chances.
Villa, though, had talent in reserve and as Leeds’ intensity dropped rapidly after the hour, Henri Lansbury came off the bench to lash in a low 72nd-minute shot and protect Bruce’s side from a fifth defeat of the season.
Villa were worth it in the end but the beneficiaries of a group of players who gradually let them off the hook. What looked like being a statement from United ended in a creditable but nervous draw.
Villa were worth it in the end but the beneficiaries of a group of players who gradually let them off the hook. What looked like being a statement from United ended in a creditable but nervous draw.Phil Hay
It was enough to take Leeds over the hump of seven defeats in nine matches and their fixtures look favourable now, with five of the next six against clubs in the bottom half of the division.
It is remarkable that United incurred so little damage from a desperate loss of form and remarkable too that eight wins in 11 before last night leave Villa just six points better off.
Villa have as much money as anyone in the Championship but on the basis of a 4-1 rout at Wolves last Wednesday, Leeds know which club possesses the best team.
The familiar frame of John Terry traipsed into the ground with Villa’s players but despite signs that a broken metatarsal is on the mend, he was reduced to the role of a spectator at a stadium he last played in 14 years ago.
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There were injuries all over Bruce’s plate, ruling out Jonathan Kodjia, Scott Hogan and Mile Jedinak. They were missed en masse but Robert Snodgrass’ presence still served to remind Elland Road of the wages Villa are able to finance.
Snodgrass was a favourite of the crowd in his years at Leeds and, unlike many of those who gave up on the promise of happier times in West Yorkshire, did not lose that affinity when he left for Norwich City in 2012 but there is modern trend of talented former players struggling to draw from United.
Chris Wood and Charlie Taylor were struck by it during Burnley’s League Cup defeat at Turf Moor earlier in the season and Snodgrass, despite a couple of trademark touches, joined the list.
Christiansen had asked his players to attack Villa as they had Middlesbrough two weeks earlier and the same attitude was there. Villa were denied the opportunity to settle quickly but their form spoke of underlying confidence and a well-structured defence kept Leeds at arm’s length for 20 minutes.
Albert Adomah, Villa’s 11-goal winger, was first to threaten properly when Snodgrass’ crossfield ball took out Ayling and gave Adomah time to advance and shoot at Wiedwald but United’s intensity made their visitors vulnerable.
They were helplessly prone when Jansson scored, incapable of reacting as Chris Samba gave the Swede a few inches of space to meet Pablo Hernandez’s corner at the near post. Won by the persistence of Caleb Ekuban, Hernandez’s hung up the set piece and Jansson was too close too miss.
Villa felt the heat and failed to muster a convincing response before half-time. It was, over the course of the first half, Middlesbrough revisited. Samuel Saiz was a fraction away from giving Ekuban a free hit 10 yards out when he ghosted in behind Samba and Villa’s best chance went begging on 33 minutes.
Keinan Davis got away down the right and picked out Glenn Whelan with a clever ball to the edge of Leeds’ box. Where Snodgrass or Adomah might have finished, Whelan bundled a tentative shot wide.
Bruce was crying out for the presence of Kodjia up front and the talented Josh Onomah’s outing became a mixture of heavy touches and stray passes. Ekuban kept Villa’s defence moving as effectively as he had Barnsley’s six days earlier and Wiedwald was left to observe a long way from the coalface. The sole concern for Christiansen was the sight of Hernandez clutching a hamstring in the final minutes of the half.
The Spaniard attempted to run his injury off but was quickly forced to make way for Kemar Roofe.
It was inconceivable that Villa would lie so low throughout and Adomah was denied by the legs of Wiedwald on 55 minutes after the ball spun off Luke Ayling and played him clean through but Leeds tried to press for a second goal.
Saiz’s clever cross from the right gave Sam Johnstone the jitters but neither Alioski nor Roofe could apply an outstretched foot and Liam Cooper was denied by an offside flag when he nodded Roofe’s free-kick into Johnstone’s net.
Bruce waited until the 65th minute to roll the dice, throwing on Lansbury and Jack Grealish, and with Villa rapidly gaining control, Lansbury took seven minutes to draw them level, shooting in off Wiedwald’s far post after Neil Taylor forced the ball out of a crunching challenge with Jansson.
Villa’s confidence surged again and Leeds backed off, fearing a repeat of Derby’s late fightback a month earlier, but there was no second goal and no sting in the tail. Christiansen will take that.