Leeds United line-up: 4-4-2 formation
Silvestri (GK); Defence: Berardi (LB), Bamba (DC), Bellusci (DC), Wooton (RB); Midfield: Cook (DM), Murphy (DM), C.Taylor (LM), Mowatt (RM); Attack: Sharp (ST), Morison (ST)
Substitutes: S Taylor, Adryan, Phillips, Çani, Del Fabro, Antenucci, Doukara
Attendance: 16,163 (4,698 Leeds)
Coach Neil Redfearn made two changes to the Leeds United starting line-up in today’s game, Swiss international Gaetano Berardi coming in to replace an injured Liam Cooper and reinstating Steve Morison to the starting line-up. Right back-turned right midfielder Sam Byram was again missing and Leeds adapted the tactical formation to accommodate this. On the bench, two changes were made with youngster Dario del Fabro earning a bench place and also Adryan coming back into the match day fold. A pairing of Morison/Sharp up front also gave rise to a change in formation as Leeds adopted a more traditional 4-4-2 formation.
After rebounding with a 2-1 victory against a side pushing for promotion in Ipswich Town, a game against relegation-haunted Wigan is one where you’d expect Leeds to come through with another win and three points in the bag. The difference is there is a definite top half/bottom half bias in the results Leeds have put up this season. Against teams in the top half of the table, teams like Ipswich, Leeds are the 9th ranked team in the Championship. However, results against the bottom half teams see Leeds United plummet to become the 20th ranked team in the division. In reality, with Leeds, this result could go either way.
Leeds opened the brighter of the two teams and showed good promise in the opening exchanges of the first half with both Luke Murphy and Sol Bamba going close in the opening 10 minutes as Leeds took a tight grip on the game. Leeds definitely enjoyed the better of possession in the first 10 minutes, outpassing Wigan 60-to-22 in what was largely one-way traffic. Wigan did show brief flashes of enterprise that made Leeds stop and take note such as a header from on-loan Liverpool winger Sheyi Ojo from a Jermaine Pennant cross that only just missed to the left of Marco Silvestri’s goal. Leeds thought that they’d earned a penalty when livewire striker Billy Sharp went down in the box but the referee was having none of Leeds’ protests of foul play.
The intensity of the game dropped and it became more pedestrian-esque probing and prying as both sides looked for opportunities to grab the game’s opening goal. Wigan’s impressive Liverpool loanee Ojo had another good opportunity when a shot at the Leeds goal required Sivestri to pull off a smart save to maintain the parity. This sparked Leeds into action and the industrious Luke Murphy had two successive shots blocked by Wigan’s Jason Pearce and James Perch.
Leeds continued to press in the final five minutes of the half, Steve Morison having a shot clear the bar and the recalled Berardi having a shot that required a save from Scott Carson. A tame first half petered out and was more a testament to a combination of Leeds’ inability to impose themselves on lower table teams and Wigan’s abject form of late that has seen them solidly entrenched in a relegation battle.
Half time score: Wigan 0 – Leeds 0
Wigan must have had a Malkay Mackay half time special as they came out for the second half the stronger of the two teams, a James McClean shot requiring a parried save from Marco Silvestri. This casused a mini-spike of action and siege of the Leeds goal with Giuseppe Bellusci first clearing a Wigan corner before Emerson Boyce fired wide of the Leeds goal. Bellusci and Berardi were called upon to make clearances in the 50th minute as Wigan began to turn the screw more, forcing Leeds onto the back foot.
Wigan had taken a stranglehold of the game and Leeds were being increasingly pressed back, then the breakthrough came. Leeds attacked down the left and an attempt to thread a through ball for Alex Mowatt rebounded from a defenders back. On a rough, cut-up pitch the ball bobbled nicely for Alex Mowatt who lashed a right-footed shot past a lead-footed Scott Carson in the Wigan goal.
The siege of the Leeds goal continued and James McClean had two shots in the 72nd and 76th minute which resulted in a close miss to the left and a block from Scott Wootton. This was becoming a pattern as the game closed out, Wigan making ever more frantic shots and Leeds players throwing themselves in front of said shots as they battled towards another important three points. As regulation time ticked away, Leeds replaced Steve Morison and Billy Sharp with Mirco Antenucci and Edgar Çani as they sought to close out the game. However, as added-on time clocked in, Wigan had a couple of final attacking throes, a James McClean free kick needing a parried save from Silvestri and a Harry Maguire header being put over the bar.
Full time: Wigan 0 – Leeds 1
Against a bottom-three team and with Leeds performing badly against such teams, it was a welcome three points gained which sees Leeds move up to 13th place in the table on 47 points and sees Wigan remain in 22nd place eight points behind safety. Better defensive performances in the centre of the field, from the ‘Quad Core’ of central defenders Sol Bamba and Giuseppe Bellusci and defensive midfielders Luke Murphy and Lewis Cook, has been the key to Leeds’ resurgent form in 2015; form which has seen them consolidate them as 3rd-ranked Championship team of 2015.