Leeds United line-up
Silvestri (GK); Defence: C Taylor (LB), Bamba (DC), Bellusci (DC), Wooton (RB),; Midfield: Bianchi (DM), Murphy (DM), Mowatt (LM), Cook (CM), Byram (RM); Attack: Morison (ST); Substitutes: S Taylor, Del Fabro, Doukara, Antenucci, Mowatt, Sloth, Çani
Attendance 18,124 (2,602 Leeds United)
Wow, after an abject defeat at home against Brentford, the last thing I expected was for Leeds to hand some team their derriere on a plate – that’s what happened in this game though. The key to the reversal in fortunes? Simple really, no tinkering with the formation and coach Redfearn simply reverted to the ‘4-2-3-1 Double Six’. The result of this ‘back-to-basics’ approach was a performance where it would have been a travesty if Leeds hadn’t gotten anything out of the game.
Neil Redfearn was forced into ringing the changes for the trip to Reading, his hand being forced somewhat by niggling injuries and late illness withdrawals. Captain Liam Cooper wasn’t named in the squad and his place was taken by Giuseppe Bellusci who is returning after serving a 2-game suspension for his second red card of the season. Rodolph Austin was also missing which gave Tommaso Bianchi a chance of a return to the Leeds United starting XI. On the bench, Italian youngster Dario del Fabro came in to provide some defensive cover.
This really was that proverbial ‘game of two halves’ and Leeds really didn’t struggle in either of them.
The tale of the first half for Leeds was their defensive strength and cohesion; they were strong in both tackle situations and also in clearing their lines. Leeds completed 18 successful tackles in the opening half of the game with Luke Murphy, Tommaso Bianchi, Sol Bamba and Giuseppe Bellusci all having 3 successful tackles each. When looking at defensive clearances, Leeds again completed 18 clearances with the defensive unit being particularly strong: Bamba (5 clearances), Wootton (3 clearances), Bellusci (2 clearances) and Charlie Taylor (2 clearances).
Away from the defensive side of things, it was a scrappy 45 minutes with neither team really gaining the upper hand. It fluctuated between flurries of activity and drops in intensity. Reading actually started the stronger of the two sides with Garath McClearly and Pavel Pogrebnyak being particularly of threat but, for once, Leeds’ defence looked composed. However, Leeds, with Lewis Cook and Luke Murphy pulling the strings began to work their way back into the game. Steve Morison was holding the ball up well and playing in others and was instrumental in setting up Leeds’ first shot on target in the game. On 17 minutes, Taylor played the ball to Cook whose pass found Morison in the 6-yard box. His perceived threat led to Reading clearing the ball in a hurry and the resulting phase of play led to a free kick. Luke Murphy played the ball in and Bianchi’s eventual shot ended up being saved by Adam Federici in the Reading goal.
Both teams continued to push and probe in what was more a case of a fair performance than flair performance. Reading had a fleeting chance when central defender Alex Pearce headed over from a corner after smart play from Giuseppe Bellusci to deflect the ball out. On 34 minutes, the impressive McCleary again posed a threat but his ball in towards the Leeds goal was headed away by Sam Byram. Leeds then took it straight up the other end and a great ball from Lewis Cook found Morison whose initial touch took it away from the defender and his shot smacked back off the upright. Leeds went into the half-time break having had an almost comfortable ride in the opening 45 minutes.
Leeds used the first half’s foundations to allow themselves a solid base from which to develop in the opening exchanges of the second half. Players, like the returning Giuseppe Bellusci, grew in confidence and began playing with much more aplomb. The passages of play were becoming neater; it was just after the hour mark when it all came alive for Leeds and they got their reward for their endeavours over the previous 63 minutes. Great interplay between Charlie Taylor and Casper Sloth led to Luke Murphy finding the ball at his feet. Looking up, he saw he was at distance but swung a right boot at the ball. The contact was sweet and the ball nestled inside Federici’s left-hand post, giving Leeds a 1-0 lead.
The atmosphere was pretty dismal at the Madjeski Stadium with the majority of the noise coming from Leeds’ 2,602-strong vociferous travelling support. The goal gave Leeds the lift they needed and they continued to push for a killer second goal. That isn’t to say that they had it all their own way; after Luke Murphy was dispossessed, Leeds had to thank the shot-stopping ability of keeper Marco Silvestri in keeping their 1-0 lead. With the game heading to a 1-0 win, a rarity in the Leeds United away guide this season.
Game focus – Leeds United’s midfield
The above heatmap graphic (WhoScored.com) helps to explain a little about Leeds’ midfield dominance and control over the game. The players represented in this graphic are: Luke Murphy, Casper Sloth, Sam Byram, Lewis Cook and Alex Mowatt – Tommaso Bianchi wasn’t included as he went off injured early on in the game. Leeds’ midfield quintet who finished the game, had their most active phases in the depths of the Reading midfield zone, activity that spread across the whole width of the field and, with being largely active in the Reading half, showed the attacking intent Leeds approached this game with. The five players had a total of 243 touches with Murphy having 61 touches (25%), Byram 57 touches (23%), Sloth 46 touches (19%), Cook 18.50% and Mowatt 34 touches (14%). Passing-wise, the Leeds midfield partially delivered the goods; Lewis Cook having 80% passing accuracy (27 completed passes), Casper Sloth 77% passing accuracy (29 completed passes), Alex Mowatt 73% passing accuracy (20 accurate passes), Sam Byram having 67% passing accuracy (30 completed passes) and Luke Murphy having 59% passing accuracy (31 accurate passes). However, it wasn’t only about the passing as each midfield player put in a decent shift defensively, helping to stifle the Reading midfield.
Player focus: Luke Murphy
Luke Murphy deservedly was voted Man-of-the-Match as he found his mojo again and had the latest impressive game in his resurgence of form since his recall to the Leeds United starting XI. As well as the above statistics (61 touches – 30 completed passes), he also had 6 successful tackles, 1 interception and 2 clearances; to top this off he scored his third goal of the season with a long range shot. His range of passing is, at times, a joy to behold and he really is showing the kind of form that made Leeds fork out £1 million for his signature.
Next game: Leeds United vs. Millwall FC – Saturday 14th February 2015
In-text stats from WhoScored.com data