I hope everyone has had a good Christmas. The start of the week saw the Junior Members Christmas party at Elland Road. It turned out to be the most people I have seen attend this event over the last few years. Unfortunately, it meant there were queues galore for everything and as they had to get more tables and chairs out, the disco and games were cancelled which was a shame. The Christmas dinner was excellent though so well done for that.
I heard on Christmas Eve that my new book Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United will be in the club shop in the New Year which was great news. For those who received it for Christmas including my sister Erica and nephew Steve, enjoy the read. A big thank you to Kate, Matt, Susan and Bremner for buying the book too as your support is greatly appreciated.
With it being a 5.15pm kick-off for Sky TV, I picked my granddaughter Hannah up early to allow plenty of time to get there. After a quick trip to the club shop and McDonald’s we got into the Peacock with over three hours to spare having met a young man from Greece who was attending his first game at Elland Road. We ended up sitting outside under the wooden seating area as I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand up for that length of time. I’d started looking at my phone and realised someone had taken a photo of me for a change and turned around to find Chris laughing at me. That meant he had to have his photo taken too. Eventually Hannah and I were joined there by more of my family before heading into the ground. Once inside, as I stood talking to Susan, a young lad next to us with his friend started talking to us and immediately bought my book. By the time we had finished chatting it was nearly time for the game to start.
The team: Casilla, Ayling, Cooper, White, Alioski, Klich, Bamford, Harrison, Dallas, Costa and Phillips. Subs: Nketiah for Bamford (64). Ref. D. Bond. The game ended in a 1-1 draw with Dallas equalising in the 89th minute. Attendance was 35,638 with 805 Preston fans.
With Preston playing in green and yellow I kept thinking we were already playing West Bromwich Albion for some reason. For the first twenty minutes of the game, Preston put us under a lot of pressure although we had started on the attack. Both Ayling and Cooper were guilty of putting passes across the pitch that were too short and were picked up by the Preston players who were showing they wanted the ball more than us. There was a lot of sloppy passing going on as we struggled to get going. When Casilla went haring out of the area to get to the ball, he did have enough time to get to it. Unfortunately, he made a mess of the clearance and we were lucky not to get punished with a goal against us. I just thought Preston could have their 10 minutes of play then we could take over the game which didn’t end up being the case. Preston weren’t giving up as they constantly attacked us. We kept passing back to Casilla and no one was taking charge of the ball or looking like they wanted it at all. When we reverted to the long ball especially from goal kicks, they were a waste of time as the ball never went to our players or was won by us. As Leeds attacked, we lost the ball and with Preston players haring down on our goal I just knew they were going to score. After this they started with their time wasting and cheating antics of staying down with pretend injuries. At times we were bullied off the ball and Preston also showed their true colours early on when their answer to stopping us was to foul us. How some of their players didn’t end up in the book early on was a mystery. I got a little worried that our players were going to get themselves in bother as they were very close to retaliating as well as some pushing and shoving. It was important that we didn’t lose our cool which is what Preston wanted. We did try getting back into the game with the last ten minutes of the half, but it had been a very poor 45 minutes for Leeds.
At the start of the second half, Cooper’s first pass was too short again which Preston took advantage of. You can always tell when things aren’t going well on the pitch as there were plenty of expletives around us today. Things were starting to improve when Dallas brought a save out of the Preston keeper. The ref played on with two of the Preston players down on the floor which I was glad about as it was about time they were ignored. Leeds had been attacking when Nketiah was stood at the side of the pitch ready to be brought on. As we were wondering who was going to go off as plenty of players hadn’t been playing well, it flashed up on the scoreboard that Bamford was being replaced. Everyone around me was mystified as he had been getting involved in holding up play and making every effort to get involved and get the ball. There were plenty of boos around me when he went off with one man saying that Bielsa had lost the plot. With our first attack after the substitution, Nketiah passed to Costa in the box and his cross went over Harrison and reached Alioski whose shot sailed over the bar. That had been a good chance and when Nketiah’s header was pushed around the post by the Preston keeper when it looked like a goal all the way, plenty began to think it wasn’t going to happen for us today. With 15 minutes to go, it was very quiet around the ground for a couple of minutes as the realisation sunk in but then the Leeds fans got behind the team. The last minutes of the game belonged to Leeds as they went on the attack, looking for that equaliser. Alioski’s shot hit the foot of the post and rebounded out, then Harrison’s shot across the box put Preston under pressure and Alioski was denied once again but this time by their keeper. On another day he could have had a hattrick. Leeds were piling on the pressure when the ball came back out to Dallas on the edge of the area. He let fly with a deflected shot that went into the top of the net to send the Leeds fans wild as Elland Road erupted. Leeds were straight back to the middle of the park ready to get on with the game as they were looking for a winner. Although we kept on looking for the winner, in the end we had to settle for a draw. At least we didn’t lose, and it didn’t feel like a loss like the Cardiff game had as we had gotten the late equaliser this time. Bielsa’s decision to sub Bamford could be justified in the sense that we had some pace, attacked and got a goal. Personally I would have liked to have seen him stay on the pitch as well as Nketiah.
With a run of three away games to come with the visit to Birmingham and West Brom in the league and Arsenal in the FA Cup, none of these will be easy games. We will have to up our game, but I do feel the tactics at the start of the game today were not right. As well as our sloppiness, we let Preston dictate the game rather than us play to our strengths and let them worry about us. There was also too much playing back to Casilla today which at times put us under pressure too. Onto our next game and for those of you who are going to Birmingham, I’ll see you there, LUFC – Marching on Together!
Author of the following books:
- Follow Me and Leeds United
- Once a Leeds fan, Always a Leeds fan
- Co-author with Andrew Dalton of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Leeds United, Leeds United in the 1980s
- The Sleeping Giant Awakens, Leeds United 2016-17
- Back to Reality, Leeds United 2017-18
- Out now: Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United
Website: www.followmeandleedsunited.co.uk Twitter: @FollowMeAndLUFC Facebook: Follow Me and Leeds United: Instagram: Heidi Haigh – lufcheidi @followmeandleedsunited