Leeds kick gung-ho tactics into touch
‘LIKE lions,’ said Roberto De Zerbi when asked how he felt his Brighton side had handled the Elland Road atmosphere. That they didn’t take all three points was because of a moment of brilliance from Jack Harrison, 17 minutes after he had put the ball into his own net.
This was a thrilling game where Leeds twice came from behind and one that deserved the full Match of the Day treatment, with Ian Wright marvelling over the superb Kaoru Mitoma and Alan Shearer admiring the sheer willingness of Harrison to atone for his mistake. Last season, when they survived relegation on the final day, Leeds won more points on the road than at home. For Leeds, 17 of their 23 points (74 per cent) this season however, have come at home and boss Javi Gracia knows that Elland Road must be a fortress if they are to stay up. No team has fewer points than Leeds on their travels.
For half an hour on Saturday, it was anything but a fortress as Brighton moved the ball around with staggering ease and little pressure in front of a hushed crowd. Yet weirdly enough, this was part of Gracia’s plan. In days gone by, the Leeds of Marcelo Bielsa and Jesse Marsch would have taken the game to the opposition and more likely than not, this Brighton side would have picked them off.
But Gracia was pragmatic — in their own half, Brighton were completely left alone. In his final thesis at the Italian national coaching academy, De Zerbi argued that centre backs must ‘have the pleasure of
holding the ball, of building the game, knowing everything starts from them.’ Lewis Dunk and Adam Webster had pleasure indeed, with 229 touches between them. The entire Leeds back four had 207. Brighton’s opening goal, scored by Alexis Mac Allister came from Dunk’s ball in behind the Leeds defence.
Silence turned to boos and then out of nothing Patrick Bamford equalised. The same spirit also saw them secure a point after falling behind again and Gracia said: ‘I know what happens when you press deep against this team. We prefer to wait for the right moment. ‘I decided it was the best way to do it, the players believed, we worked on it all week and we did it.’ LEEDS (4-2-3-1): Meslier 6; Ayling 5, Koch 5, Wober 6, Firpo 5; Adams 6, Roca 6 (McKennie 66min, 6); Summerville 5 (Gnonto 66, 6), Aaronson 6 (Rutter 84), Harrison 6 (Sinisterra 90+4); Bamford 6 (Rodrigo 66, 6). Scorers: Bamford 40, Harrison 78.
Manager: Javi Gracia 6.
BRIGHTON (4-2-3-1): Steele 6; Veltman 6, Webster 6 (Van Hecke 88), Dunk 6, Estupinan 6; Gross 7, Caicedo 7; March 7, Mac Allister 7, MITOMA 8; Ferguson 6 (Welbeck 68, 5).
Scorers: Mac Allister 33, Harrison 61 (og). Booked: Caicedo.
Manager: Roberto De Zerbi 7.
Referee: Paul Tierney 6.