West Brom back into top six after thrashing Leeds
Another Saturday of unpredictable scorelines ended with Norwich City top of the Championship after Leeds, top going into the weekend programme and still there after Sheffield United were held by city rivals Wednesday on Friday evening, slipped to only a third defeat of the season.
Albion’s recent form had been giving cause for concern after a run of three defeats in four matches, but secondhalf goals from Hal Robson-Kanu, Matt Phillips, Harvey Barnes and substitute Dwight Gayle rewarded a strong counter-attacking performance against a Leeds side who were guilty of making too many mistakes.
The victory lifted Darren Moore’s team back into the top six.
“We needed that performance,” head coach Moore said. “And I think we got it because we had a break in the programme without midweek games that at last gave us time to get in some quality work in training.
“We created chances in the games where we didn’t get the results – 16 against Derby, for example – but for whatever reason, that final touch to convert the chances was not there.
“But the time on the training pitch gave us the chance to work on the fine details of all areas of our play. And it was pleasing to see the results tonight.”
The Leeds head coach, Marcelo Bielsa, admitted that he accepted responsibility for the defeat.
“We knew that the best aspect of our opponent is their offensive players and that they wanted the space to counterattack,” he said. “We worked on a way to prevent this and stop them scoring, but the opposite happened.
“In every game, players make mistakes, but the design of the game is the responsibility of the head coach.”
There had been plenty of energy from the start from the home side.
In the opening minutes RobsonKanu went close with a decent effort that just cleared the bar, Tosin Adarabioyo fired a good chance wide from a corner and Jay Rodriguez tested goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell from 20 yards.
Leeds tried to control the tempo and showed quality at times, but there was a hint of what was to follow when a mistake by Kalvin Phillips, casually giving the ball away on the halfway line, almost allowed Barnes to give Albion the lead.
There were chances for Pablo Hernandez and Mateusz Klich as Leeds used the full width of the pitch to stretch the home side, but Albion went close again as Rodriguez rattled the bar.
Moore was probably wondering when he might turn to Gayle, back on the bench after missing two matches through injury, but then, six minutes after the restart, came the breakthrough Albion probably deserved.
Again, Leeds had themselves to blame, leaving themselves vulnerable to the counter, which came as their appeals for a foul on Kemar Roofe were dismissed.
As Leeds chased back, Rodriguez drove forwards at speed and picked out Robson-Kanu moving into space on the left. The Welsh striker delivered a fine finish, sliding the ball across PeacockFarrell and in at the far post.
Leeds now tried to test an Albion defence that had looked insecure in recent games, but just as they pushed harder to pull level, Albion eased the pressure on themselves with a second goal on 67 minutes, making Leeds pay for another mistake.
Phillips, whose physicality in midfield had been a problem for the visi- tors throughout, dispossessed Klich inside the Leeds half, drove hard to- wards goal and beat Peacock-Farrell with a raking drive from 25 yards.
Thereafter, Leeds pretty much fell apart, conceding again in the 82nd and 83rd minutes as Adarabioyo released Barnes through the middle to sweep home, and again as Gayle, who had replaced Robson-Kanu for the last 10 minutes, showed off his audacious side by back-heeling into the net after a Rodriguez shot had been blocked.
Hernandez headed a lovely goal for Leeds in stoppage time, but it counted for nothing, save to give the 2,500 visiting fans, who never wavered in their support, something to applaud.
Collision: West Brom’s James Morrison (left) and Kemar Roofe challenge for the ball