Graham Smyth's Verdict as Leeds United's Plan A works a treat (eventually) in 2-0 win at Barnsley

Leeds United’s Plan A worked a treat in their 2-0 victory over Barnsley, it just took 84 minutes for everything to fall into place.

By Graham Smyth
Sunday, 15th September 2019, 8:36 pm
Leeds players celebrating their second goal, having ground down Barnsley's resistance (Pic: Getty)
Leeds players celebrating their second goal, having ground down Barnsley's resistance (Pic: Getty)

Marcelo Bielsa’s men attacked repeatedly down both flanks during the derby at Oakwell, sending in cross after cross without ever making Brad Collins in the Reds’ goal work.

A frustrating first half was followed by more frustration, various Leeds players voicing their anger and despair when attacks broke down or failed to yield a goalscoring chance.

There were chances, however. Lots of chances. Patrick Bamford alone had a handful.

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Patrick Bamford endured a frustrating afternoon but came in for praise from boss Marcelo Bielsa (Pic: Getty)

While those off the pitch were losing their heads, including a steward who became embroiled in ugly scenes with the visiting fans, Leeds kept their’s and kept plugging away.

And while Bielsa changed things, bringing on Helder Costa for Jack Harrison at the break and withdrawing Patrick Bamford on 71 minutes to give Eddie Nketiah a go up front, the overall plan did not change.

Eventually, their toiling brought just reward.

Costa, an immediate and constant threat, won a free-kick on the left, Kalvin Phillips swung in an inviting ball that beat everyone bar Nketiah and the Arsenal loanee lifted the roof on the away end with his finish.

Leeds and Nketiah weren’t done yet. A loose ball allowed the striker to nip in just ahead of ex-Whites defender Aapo Halme and a penalty was the result, Mateusz Klich providing a cheeky finish.

Bielsa called it a ‘beautiful’ game and a result that brought him not just happiness, but calm.

The game was, as the Argentine said, entertaining from start to finish.

It didn’t always have the feel of a derby, it wasn’t exactly bedlam from the first minute to the last, but there was still some blood – Halme having to go off to get cleaned up after suffering a bang to the nose – and some thunder – Phillips hammering Mamadou Thiam with a perfectly legal tackle.

Amid the noise and tension, the kind of atmosphere that ordinarily calls for experience and nous, a 19-year-old stood out early on for Leeds.

Jamie Shackleton, in for the injured Adam Forshaw, played Bamford in behind the defence with a fine through ball, yet the centre-forward could only fire against the legs of Collins.

As well as Shackleton and Leeds started, Barnsley had plenty of moments in the opening phase of the game, Mallik Wilks taking advantage of a Harrison error, tiptoeing past Liam Cooper and curling in a shot that Kiko Casilla beat away.

Barnsley’s high press was talked about in the lead up to the game and, initially, it caused problems for Leeds who were guilty of coughing up possession uncharacteristically in their own half.

When they did win the ball high up the pitch, Barnsley showed they could play, Alex Mowatt giving his former club a reminder of his ability by spotting the run of Luke Thomas, who had given Pablo Hernandez the slip, but couldn’t beat Casilla.

Shackleton and Klich took it upon themselves to drive Leeds through the middle, when the wide areas were cut off, and the former sent Bamford away again, Collins standing in the way once more. The physical treatment meted out to Leeds’ lone striker by defenders was clearly adding to the frustration caused by his missed chances but it also added to Leeds’ problems.

The aerial ball to Bamford was not a guaranteed outlet in the way it has been this season.

That almost proved costly when Barnsley won the ball on halfway and sent it forward, Cooper unable to prevent Mowatt from releasing Wilks, whose shot whistled past the far post.

Leeds ended the half on top, Phillips providing a pair of dangerous set-piece deliveries, the second of which found Harrison at the back post, which he struck with a low shot.

That was the last contribution the winger made; his place taken by Costa at the break.

Bielsa later said Harrison played ‘well enough’ and held him up as a player capable of making an impact, yet what Costa did with his 45 minutes added further weight to the Portuguese winger’s case for a start.

The substitution would have paid off immediately had an offside flag not curtailed the celebrations sparked by a Costa cross and a Bamford finish.

Costa gave Leeds more penetration on the left flank, meaning Barnsley had plenty to worry about on both sides of the pitch – Stuart Dallas a menace on the right throughout. Yet the Reds still posed questions for their visitors, especially on the break.

When Wilks turned Cooper and raced away from the halfway line, Phillips gave chase and did enough to force the forward wide, allowing Casilla to come off his line and snuff out the danger.

And Leeds’ problem with corners raised its head more than once, one set-piece giving Mads Andersen a free header that hit Halme, Casilla beating the ball off his line as the offside flag went up to rescue the visitors. Nothing the home side did could throw Leeds off track, however.

They came again and again, building attacks, building momentum, building pressure. Eventually it told.

Costa was fouled, Phillips got the free-kick just right and Nketiah did the rest.

Goals change games and the most obvious change in this instance was the space that appeared, space for Nketiah to run in behind and stretch a weary defence.

He did just that to win the penalty and this time it was Klich who did the rest, gently caressing the ball into the bottom left-hand corner and putting the derby to bed.

Ugly scenes in the away end and the East Stand in the final minutes threatened to mar what had been a fine advertisement for Championship football in Yorkshire, but what should live long in the memory is the persistence with which Leeds ground down a very game opponent.

Arguments over who should start up front and on the wing will rage on and on.

The names on the team sheet can and may change. The plan won’t.