It was nearly two whole months coming but Leeds United have rewarded their fans with a first win of the 2018 part of their Sky Bet Championship campaign.
A rotten run of form under Thomas Christiansen saw to his dismissal as January started off bleakly for the Whites under dark clouds of losses and suspensions caused by a raft of red cards. With Christiansen dismissed, it fell to poached Barnsley boss Paul Heckingbottom to right the listing Leeds United side and point them in the right direction.
That direction has seen fortunes pick up a little since a loss to Sheffield United, with creditable draws against dangerous play-off sides in Derby County and Bristol City. Today it was the turn of Brentford, a side just above them in the league, to face the bear pit of an Elland Road crowd cheering on their side who are still very much in the hunt for a play-off place of their own.
The Whites started the game in 11th place and eight points shy of the play-off places, knowing that a win wouldn’t move them up at all but would narrow the gap and keep up the pressure.
Leeds United line up vs Brentford
Leeds started the game with some enforced changes after Adam Forshaw missed out with his partner due to give birth and Andy Lonergan failing to beat a neck strain despite seeking the help of a chiropractor.
It was a bright start for the Whites who took the game to the visiting Londoners, a side who possessed a good blend of industry and skill and a side that would test Leeds United to their core.
Brentford gradually grew into the game, asking many questions of the Whites defence which has, as many fans would be quick to tell you, has been decidedly patchy of late. Chances fell to the likes of Ollie Watkins and Kamohelo Mokotjo and the oft-criticised Felix Wiedwald pulled off a fantastic save to deny John Egan that kept the scores level.
Brentford continued to pressure Leeds, pushing them backwards and forcing them to defend stoically. The Bees began to force the pace, winning a number of corners that, thankfully, came to nothing and United were able to clear their lines.
With Leeds under the cosh somewhat, they needed to gather their thoughts and get a little breathing space. That opportunity came just after the half-hour and from a set-piece. Stuart Dallas was felled by Romaine Sawyers, gifting Leeds a free kick. An excellent delivery by Gianni Alioski was met with a better header by captain Liam Cooper, the Scot flicking a deft header beyond Daniel Bentley and into the far corner to give Leeds a 1-0 lead.
It was a 1-0 lead that the Whites nearly doubled three minutes with Alioski’s fine work on the right freeing up Samu Saiz in the area, the Spaniard’s quick feet allowing him to get a shot away that was blocked. This fell to Pierre-Michel Lasogga, whose narrow-angled dink brought a fine save from Bentley.
It was Cooper’s 31st minute, third goal for Leeds United that was the difference between the two teams at the break. It was also a goal that set up what could have been an entertaining second half, what with Leeds’ lapses of concentration well documented and Brentford coming off of a 5-0 massacre of Birmingham City.
Both teams pressed for different reasons, Leeds looking for that second goal that would put the game beyond doubt and Brentford for that vital equaliser. Watkins again (58′)came close with a curling effort that went just wide before Lasogga (62′) came agonisingly close after cutting through the Bentford defence, rounding Bentley and shooting towards goal – his effort scrambled off the line by the covering defence.
With both sides still pushing the game was getting a little ragged and Saiz was coming in for some calculated fouls by an ever-increasingly stretched Brentford side with Yoann Babet seeing yellow after pulling back the tricky Spaniard.
As the game entered its final throes, both teams had opportunities but that’s all they remained as the game petered out to leave Leeds United fans to return home happy after a 1-0 win, a first of 2018.