Villains Of The Piece

Incredible Scenes As Leeds And Villa Ends In Controversial Stalemate.

Whatever the outcome of this season, one thing is for certain, it will be remembered for a long time to come. There has not been a dull moment surrounding Leeds United. It also happens to be a season the club has allowed a film crew to capture every moment for a fly on the wall style documentary. Almost every emotion possible has been experienced by the fans and it promises to make compelling viewing.

The latest instalment of United’s campaign threatened to go under the radar. A pre-cursor to the potential Play-off final, neither side had a great deal riding on the outcome. Villa had secured their place in the top six already and barring a footballing miracle, Leeds were not going up automatically. With Villa on an impressive run of ten consecutive Championship victories and United stuttering of late there was a sense of intrigue rather than excitement pre kick-off. Those expecting a pre season friendly procession of a contest were wildly off the mark.

Not for the first time this season, Elland Road was packed to capacity. Sky Television cameras were once again in attendance, another re-arranged fixture, another bone of contention. Marcelo Bielsa had drafted in utility man Stuart Dallas at Left Back in place of the injured Alioski. There were welcome additions to the bench in the form of attacking midfielders Izzy Brown and Mateusz Bogusz. Last time out these two sides had served up a barn stormer. A last gasp winner from Kemar Roofe at Villa Park saw Leeds overturn a two goal deficit win 3-2. Dean Smith has overseen a drastic upturn in results since, making his side one of the favourites to achieve promotion.

A lack of firepower.

Leeds have struggled in recent weeks against sides that have sat back and played on the counter. Aston Villa, full of confidence would take a different approach you sensed. If that was the plan, it didn’t pay off for the visitors. As they have done all season, Leeds dominated possession, chances created etc. However once again they were unable to convert those chances into goals. This highlights the reason that they are not already promoted and sitting pretty with two games to spare. The lack of a 20 + goal a season striker has been their Achilles heal all season long. Whereas the likes of Norwich and Sheffield United have had Pukki and Sharp respectively scoring with regularity. The all important goals to attempts on target statistics read far more favourably for those two sides. Villa’s creativity would come in the form of pantomime Villain Jack Grealish. A player who’s much maligned and whom opposing fans love to hate. Kalvin Phillips was given the task of man marking Grealish although Phillips found no shortage of team mates willing to get stuck into Villa’s young Captain.

Jack Grealish appeared to be involved in much of the drama at Elland Road.

Atwell Centre Stage.

With challenges flying in all over the park, the game resembled a throw back to a time where making contact with the opposing player wasn’t prohibited. Referee Stuart Atwell appeared in no mood to let even legitimate tackles go unpunished. Liam Cooper discovered this to his cost when sliding in on Grealish, winning the ball cleanly but taking his man on the follow through. A challenge that English football would have celebrated in years gone by. Today we play a version of the game far removed from this. A game where players such as David Batty would almost certainly have struggled to make the grade. Cooper was as bemused as the rest of us to see Atwell reach for a yellow card. Atwell’s insistence on blowing up at every opportunity, largely in the away sides favour, only served facilitate a bad tempered affair. So one sided seemed the referees decisions, a rare free kick to Leeds in their own half was celebrated more than Norwich fans when gaining promotion. With the scoreline 0-0 approaching half time, Atwell saw fit to blow the whistle with Leeds inside the opposition penalty area. The temperature was now at boiling point with another 45 minutes to play.

Play to the whistle.

If the first half had seen come controversy over some questionable refereeing decisions, it would be nothing compared to what followed. There was only one talking point to cover in the second half and it centred around Leeds United’s opening goal.

Johnathan Kodjia had gone down in the centre circle following a challenge from Cooper. Referee Atwell played on deeming the tackle to be good. United began to play on under great protest from Villa players and when the ball fell to Tyler Roberts, play seemed to slow with Roberts looking like he would put the ball into touch. Within a split second, Roberts elected to punt the ball to Kilch who raced towards goal. With two defenders to beat and the keeper, Klich finished sublimely. Cue Choas. Villa players and management were incensed. In the brawl that followed, Anwar El Ghazi was dismissed for allegedly striking Patrick Bamford. Although replays have shown Bamford was guilty of feigning injury. With all around him losing their heads, Bielsa found himself at the centre of a sportsmanship row for the second time following ‘Spygate’. To his credit, Bielsa instructed his players to allow an uncontested goal to level things up, although Pontus Jansson flirted with the idea of not obeying his Manager’s orders.

The general feeling amongst the wider football community is that Leeds had every right to play on. The referee had not stopped the game and Kodjia had not suffered a head injury. For me Bielsa has played an absolute blinder allowing Villa to score. The footballing world have seen Bielsa show tremendous sportsmanship which puts the ‘Spygate’ gaining an ‘unfair’ advantage to bed. Villa have gained nothing. Instead they have set a dangerous precedent. All eyes will be on them upholding the same values in the Playoffs. Will they now kick the ball into touch every time an opponent goes to ground? It makes life incredibly difficult for them. In the meantime Villa would do well to adhere to the notion that you should play to the whistle.

Playoff Destiny

One thing is for certain that should these two sides meet in the Playoff final in May, it will have an extra edge. Leeds have taken four points and arguably could have taken all six from Villa this season, yet Villa are unbeaten in twelve games. Both sides will be desperate for promotion for similar reasons. You can’t help but feel that the team to emerge victorious would be the one that keeps their heads and based on this game, Leeds have the upper hand.

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