Leeds United line-up
Silvestri (GK); Defence: C Taylor (LB), Bamba (DC), Cooper (DC), Wooton (RB); Midfield: Austin (DM), Murphy (DM), Mowatt (LM), Cook (CM), Byram (RM); Attack: Sharp (ST);
Substitutes: S Taylor, Berardi, Sloth, Walters, Adryan, Antenucci, Çani
Attendance: 24,7045 (1,231 Watford)
Coach Neil Redfearn made two changes to the starting line-up from the last game; first a fit-again Sam Byram replaced Casper Sloth down the right flank, Sloth dropping to the bench. Secondly, Steve Morison hadn’t recovered sufficiently from a hamstring strain so Billy Sharp took his place up front. Leeds’ mercurial, yet missing baby-faced Brazilian, Adryan, gained a place on the bench as did youngster Lewis Walters.
Leeds usually perform better in the first 45 minutes of a game, even more so under the new formation adopted at the turn of the year. This wasn’t a case of a home team having a bit of a ‘hoorah moment’ at the beginning of the game against a slick, promotion-chasing opponent; Leeds actually genuinely did outplay and outclass a very good Watford side in the opening exchanges of the half. At times it looked like men against boys as the North Londoners toiled in the real North. Leeds were threatening from the off, Charlie Taylor and Rodolph Austin looking particularly wick as early as the 4th minute of the game. Then a goal was conjured out of nothing. In the 6th minute, Watford defender Ikechi Anya tried to head a backpass to his goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes but misjudged the power and direction of the headed pass, forcing Gomes into a smart parried save. The saved ball fell into the path of Billy Sharp and he duly slotted it gratefully into the goal despite pressure from defenders for a 1-0 Leeds United lead.
Even after six minutes, Watford looked anything but promotion hopefuls; they were edgy, non-committal and basically being schooled by a team many places below them and one who’d turned them over 4-1 in the reverse fixture. Leeds continued to press, having spells where it left us fans wondering what had happened to our team of earlier in the season. Lewis Cook had a 10th minute shot at goal go wide, Sam Byram surged into the box and his cut-back was hacked away by a worried and crumbling defence. Things looked good; then it got better courtesy of Rodolph Austin’s dipping, looped, chested volley from the apex of the penalty area. Leeds fans are as accustomed to Austin hitting shots from outside the area as are Leeds’ ballboys in then recovering said ball from car parks surrounding the ground. This time was different, Austin cushioning the ball on his chest, letting it drop and then smashing it goalwards over the flailing arms of Watford’s Gomes. To be fair to the keeper, Addams Family’s Gomez wouldn’t have gotten near it neither. 19 minutes gone, Leeds 2-0 up, referee not Howard Webb, seemed like a pretty fair day.
The thing is Leeds continued to press and look for a third, looking threatening in the 23rd (Scott Wooton) and 24th minute (Billy Sharp) as Watford continued to rock without rolling. It was around this time that the North Londoners began to find their feet and a neat through ball from a swift attack undid Leeds at the back and allowed Juan Carlos Paredes to get a shot off that Marco Silvestri had to save. The need for maintaining their defensive awareness soon became apparent when Sol Bamba was called upon to make a smart challenge to deny Matej Vydra. This increased period of pressure paid dividends and Watford got a reply just as half-time approached. A long through ball, played behind the Leeds centrebacks allowed the lightning-quick Troy Deeney to sprint between Bamba and Liam Cooper and once goalside there was only ever likely to be one result; 2-1 Leeds as Watford pulled one back six minutes before the break. Watford then pressed at Leeds and attacked with vigour, now Leeds knew what it was like to be on the rack.
Half time score: Leeds 2 – Watford 1
You’d have expected Watford to have come out like the proverbial house on fire, chasing a quick goal to really put them back in the mix. Nobody told Leeds that plan though. Within the first minute of the restart, Leeds United had three gilt-edged chances to really put the game to bed. First Billy Sharp nearly capitalised on a Craig Cathcart mistake and forced a save out of Gomes before another Leeds attack led to Austin feeding Sharp whose shot was again saved by Gomes. Leeds continued to press and Luke Murphy saw a shot go just wide. The ferocity at which Leeds went at Watford had them reeling again; it was like watching Rocky IV when Rocky Balboa returns from an earlier pummelling and hammers at Ivan Drago. The question draped over the lips of every Leeds United fan was, can it continue? It didn’t.
The answer to that question duly came in the game’s 56th minute as Deeney went from scorer to provider. Another quick break and attack saw Deeney streaking into the Leeds area, he drew Marco Silvestri out of his goal and then simply rolled the ball across to Matej Vydra who steered the ball into the net for the equaliser. With this goal, the tide really did change and the momentum shift was plain to see. Watford were now so far in the driving seat that Leeds’ outfield players were clinging on like they were frightened passengers. Scene from Rutger Hauer’s ‘Hitcher’ were flashing in front of my eyes as the Watford vehicle careered toward the Leeds goal seemingly at will. Moments after the equaliser, Silvestri was again called into action with a smart save to deny the dangerous-looking Vydra from scoring a second of the afternoon.
The pace died a little after the goal and both sides tussled for the ball in midfield and both carved out some opportunities. First Leeds’ Alex Mowatt played a deft cutback toward Sam Byram that Watford’s defence had to scramble away before the inceasingly-impressive Deeney fed in Almen Abdi whose shot was only just wide. Leeds took off Austin on 73 minutes and brought on Brazilian Adryan to try and get something ou of the game in what appeared to be a positive mood. This all changed on 80 minutes when Watford took a 3-2 lead in the, having come back from a two-goal deficit. Matej Vydra again chased a ball played into the Leeds area and, after Bamba misjudged his positioning, guided the ball into the waiting goal. Between their second and third goals, Watford had had the lion’s share of play with near 60% possession resulting in 5 shots at the Leeds goal, three of these (including the two goals) being on-target. Leeds made their final two substitutions with Mirco Antenucci coming on for Alex Mowatt (83 min) and Edgar Çani replacing Sam Byram (91 min); all this was to no avail as Watford closed out the game for a deserved 3-2 victory.
Full time: Leeds 2 – Watford 3