The omens didn’t favour Leeds United. Not won a game over the festive period since a win over Scunthorpe in the heady days of 2009, I think. Derby were the free-scoring visitors with a quality-studded team. Fortress Elland Road is also hardly impregnable these days.
On a day when Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino decided to play a game of brinksmanship with Sky by initially not allowing them access to Elland Road, you’d be excused in thinking you were in the nuthouse. Still, the cameras were let in and the game was televised, Sky’s viewers awaiting what many thought could be an embarrassing loss for Leeds United.
First half – weathering a gathering storm
It certainly started that way with Derby County hogging possession and simply passing Leeds off the pitch. Derby’s crisper passing and player movement dragged Leeds around at will and helped Derby establish a foothold in the game. It was this solid base that allowed Derby to take an early lead courtesy of impressive midfielder Jeff Hendricks. Hendricks burst from midfield with Liam Bridcutt tracking him, before incredulously stopping and allowing the Derby midfielder to run into the area. Hendricks deftly controlled then flicked the ball around Sol Bamba before lifting the ball over and past Marco Silvestri for a skilfully-worked 13th minute opener.
To be fair, Leeds were under the cosh at this stage, strangled of possession and having to work hard to gain any kind of ball from a well-drilled Derby side. The Whites were being pushed around and manipulated at the whim of a very well-drilled opposition and whatever ball Leeds could get was often scrappy and wasted. That said, they did work hard to gain some momentum and began to work their way into good positions that forced Derby to backtrack and defend.
It was this building pressure that allowed Leeds to get into the right position for the equalising goal. Around the edge of the Derby area, Leeds looked threatening and Lee Camp came out to deal with Sam Byram who had the ball at his feet. Byram neatly knocked it past Camp but his shot was blocked by the Derby defence, the ball landing outside the area. Stuart Dallas hit a lofted ball into the Derby area, which the back-peddling Camp tried to claw away. As a result of his clawing, the ball landed at the feet of Sol Bamba who swept the ball into the Derby goal with aplomb.
Coming in that fabled time just before half time, the goal gave Leeds that all too vital lift as they headed into the half time break. Leeds had been pushed, prodded and pulled around the field but their enterprise allowed them to go in on equal terms with their higher-placed opponents.
Second half – building a storm of their own
The Leeds team that came out for the second half seemed lifted by the equalising Bamba goal and energised by Steve Evans’ half-time talk. The start of the second half also saw a change in referee, the original referee having tweaked a hamstring.
Leeds began the second half with more vigour, putting together better passing moves and beginning to stretch and worry Derby. Leeds fashioned more time on the ball, looking more comfortable and allowing themselves better attacking positions. It was from one of these ‘better’ positions that Leeds took took a 2-1 lead.
A quickly took throw-in by Leeds caught Derby somewhat napping and the ball was worked by Sam Byram down the right and towards the byeline. His deep cross drew the Derby defenders to the flight of the ball, allowing Chris Wood to nonchalantly peel away, receive the ball unchallenged and plant a perfectly-placed header beyond the wrong-footed Lee Camp, who could only watch the ball sail past him to give Leeds a 71st minute lead
The goal was no more than Leeds deserved for an enterprising opening to the second half and this set up what would likely become a keenly-fought last 20-or-so minutes. Derby made a subsitution on 76 minutes that proved to be a stroke of genius from the Rams. Taking of ex-Aston Villa man Andreas Weimann, Derby brought on Tom Ince and it was Ince who was the man who brought Derby level. Neat passing through the midfield saw a ball from Johnny Russell dissect the two Leeds central defenders, and allowing Ince to move swiftly onto the ball. Deft movements dug the ball from out of his feet and the 23-year-old attacking midfielder stroked the ball past Marco Silvestri for his eigth goal of the season, only two minutes after coming on.
Rather than deadening the game, the Tom Ince equaliser invigorated the last 15 minutes of the game with both sides pressing for a winning goal. In the last quarter of an hour, there were eight attempts at goal, Leeds with three shots and Derby five – with Leeds having one shot on target (Luke Murphy) and Derby two (Tom Ince’s goal and Bradley Johnson). However, there was to be no winner on the night and both sides had to be content with a point apiece from an entertaining draw.
The performance itself from Leeds wasn’t the dominating display that they showed against Nottingham Forest where the Whites controlled the midfield area, but it was a gutsy and skillful display that showed that Leeds can more than run with the big boys in the Championship on equal terms.