Nothing for Marcelo Bielsa will compare to the Clasico rosarino, the fiercest derby in Argentina outside of Buenos Aires, but a first visit to Hillsborough gave him some fire and brimstone, and a few flares too. It also yielded a draw and more emotion than Bielsa might have expected.
“What I saw in Argentina, the emotions I got there, I can't have the same,” he said of English derbies before yesterday’s game but football is football and Leeds United’s head coach went through all of them at Sheffield Wednesday. Two goals of some brilliance locked the clubs together at full-time as Leeds shook off the lethargy of their first defeat of the season but paid with two points for missed chances and a strike from Adam Reach which Bielsa could only hold his hands up to.
Reach’s 45th-minute volley, a spellbinding strike from 30 yards which even he would not back himself to repeat, turned the match at the end of a half in which Leeds let Wednesday off the hook and were skewered by the midfielder’s wild invention.
Barry Douglas had headed against a post with 27 minutes gone, from a position where he had every right to score, and other chances flew fractionally wide of Wednesday’s charmed goal. Leeds have taken defeat with a murmur at Hillsborough in the past but a 1-0 deficit at half-time did no justice to their play.
Ten minutes into the second, Mateusz Klich came as close as anyone could to outdoing Reach with a sweet, curling finish from outside the box, staving off a second straight league defeat and easing Bielsa’s sense of injustice without remotely eradicating it.
Wednesday were battered on the ropes in the second half, clinging on as attacks came at them in waves. Bielsa can expect to lose first place in the Championship today, the consequence of two games without a win in a league so tight, but on reflection the truth will be obvious to him: that his squad will play far worse than this and win hands down.
Sheffield Wednesday 1 Leeds United 1: Phil Hay’s player ratings
There was no wobble from him in terms of team selection and no backtracking on the promise to leave his line-up unchanged. His hands are tied by injuries to the point where wholesale changes are impossible but there were options available to him had last weekend’s defeat to Birmingham City played on his mind. The reaction he got was all the vindication he wanted.
Mistakes were at the root of the Birmingham loss, as much as Bielsa’s tactical decisions, and a misplaced pass had Leeds crossing their fingers as early as the fourth minute last night. Pontus Jansson was caught on the wrong side of Fernando Forestieri as the Italian skirted into United’s box and went down with the Swede breathing down his neck. Referee Robert Jones took a long look but stopped short of awarding a penalty before the night was old.
A concession at that stage was the last thing Bielsa needed but Wednesday’s early impetus was no more than a brief nibble at his defence. The game assumed derby mode quickly: competitive but sloppy and, for 20 minutes, in need of some focus. Jansson began totting up the clearing headers rapidly. Wednesday showed shades of frailty at the back. It felt like a fight with goals in it, much as one took time to come.
There were instances when Leeds found themselves in behind Jos Luhukay’s centre-backs but made nothing of the space. There were others when Bielsa’s players should have drawn blood. Wednesday made Bailey Peacock-Farrell stretch himself in the 23rd minute as Matt Penney’s cross set him up at the edge of the box for a Paul-Scholes-at-Valley-Parade-type volley. Fletcher, at Hillsborough, thudded the ball wide but after a cagey, teasing start, the fuse lit.
Wednesday held their breath twice as Ash Baker came close to turning Jack Harrison’s cross into his own net and Douglas nodded a free header against the inside of Cameron Dawson’s right-hand post from six yards out. Kalvin Phillips ran in to hit the rebound but a deflection sent his shot behind.
For Bielsa there was promise in the way that Wednesday were starting to creak. Harrison dragged a low effort into the advertising boards and Tyler Roberts failed to lob a header over Dawson after Wednesday’s goalkeeper punched with the power of a boxer on his back, leaving his net exposed. Peacock-Farrell showed a stronger hand when he tipped away Baker’s strike across him eight minutes before half-time.
A better save came from Dawson soon after, a brush of his fingertips diverting Klich’s bullet over his crossbar, and Bielsa was pondering how Leeds were not in front. By half-time he was asking himself how his side had come to find themselves behind.
Reach served up the magic, converting a volley which will stand out among other contenders for goal of the season in the Championship. The midfielder took a speculative swing at a bouncing ball and smashed a volley over Peacock-Farrell, finding the net via the inside of a post. It was a rare occasion and a rare finish for which no-one was to blame.
But when the equaliser came nine minutes into the second half, Wednesday felt the same. Luhukay’s players took the risk of sitting in from the off, inviting Leeds onto them, and Dawson could do nothing when Klich stepped up with a curling effort from 25 yards which dropped inside the keeper’s left-hand upright. There were glimpses in that goal of Michael Tonge’s inspired equaliser on an infamous, poisonous night at Hillsborough six years earlier. A firecracker went off in the away end as that end of the stadium lit up.
From there Leeds probed and probed, engaging the high press and looking for one slick move to settle the argument. Peacock-Farrell prevented a counter-punch by parrying Matt Penney’s goalbound shot a few minutes after Klich’s goal but forays towards him were rare. Tyler Roberts, whose influenced soared as the derby aged, dinked a crafty effort beyond a post and Cooper almost headed in a corner from Gjanni Alioski on 75 minutes.
Alioski might have scored himself, denied by lunging legs eight yards out, Roberts had a late header cleared off the line by Jordan Thorniley as through it all Wednesday hung in. This particular point will feel like three to them. For Bielsa is was proof that derbies are derbies, the world over.