On a blustery afternoon at Macron Stadium two controversial penalty decisions ultimately decided the contest as Leeds United and Bolton Wanderers battled to a 1-1 draw in Championship play. In the 3rd minute former Leeds goalkeeper Andy Lonergan brought down a streaking Sam Byram in the penalty area and Rodolph Austin cooly slotted home from the 12-yard spot.
For the remainder of the half the Whites and the Trotters attacked with fervor, but the Austin tally saw Leeds go into the dressing room with a slim 1-0 lead. When the two teams took the pitch again Leeds' lead proved to be short lived. In the 48th minute Bolton was awarded a penalty of their own when the referee harshly judged Luke Murphy, who earned a rare start, to have brought down Darren Pratley in the box.
Veteran front-man Eidur Gudjohnsen confidently fired past an outstretched Marco Silvestri and the Icelandic's strike proved to be the final one on the afternoon. While the goal and penalty decision both stood, Neil Redfearn felt hard done by the call and expressed discontent in his post-match comments: "I felt their penalty was a bit soft from our point of view when we had done so well and been so diligent and so thorough defending. To concede a penalty like that; I am not sure it was a penalty if I am honest."
Even though the decision left a sour taste in the mouth of Redfearn, it has to be noted that Leeds was able to put together a dogged performance against a surging Bolton squad. Players like Luke Murphy, Steve Morison, and Casper Sloth saw rare league starts and a renewed starting eleven was able to come together to earn a vital away point. With the draw, Leeds provided themselves a little bit of breathing room at the depths of the table. Below are the highlights from the match and some thoughts on what went right and wrong on the afternoon.
Team Spirit: Coming off a narrow 1-0 defeat in the FA Cup to Sunderland, Leeds was determined to carry themselves with urgency, dignity and cohesion much like they did in the second half of the match against the Black Cats. For the first time in a long while, the Whites were able to assemble an impressive and consistent 90 minutes, which is directly reflected by the result. Even though Leeds didn't come back to Elland Road with three points, they earned a valuable draw against an in-form team and demonstrated a resolve that was missing in recent weeks.
The gaffer echoed how proud he was of the team performance in his post match comments: "It was a battling performance in the second half at Sunderland and today we scrapped for 90 minutes. That is important. We had a good performance today and showed a lot of character."
Neil Redfearn describes today's game as "a great battling performance" - "I thought we applied ourselves from start to finish." #lufc— Leeds United FC (@LUFC) January 10, 2015
Austin Scores: Over the course of the last month or so Leeds has struggled dearly to find the back of the net and on Saturday their lone tally came from an unlikely source. Rodolph Austin, who earned a start after his strong performance against Sunderland, once again showed why he deserves a place in the squad. Although he may not be the most creative player, he provides an assured amount of bite and experience in the heart of midfield. Starts have been hard to come by for the Jamaican international this season and he did not disappoint.
New Lineup Impresses: When the starting eleven was released to the public about an hour or so before kick-off there were several head-scratching decisions made by Redfearn. In the new 4-2-3-1 formation Steve Morison slotted in as the target man with Lewis Cook pulling the offensive strings behind him and Sam Byram and Casper Sloth manning the flanks. Also, several players who showed well against Sunderland maintained their place and the combination of new blood and experience got the job done away from home. After the match Redfearn echoed this sentiment: "Sam Byram and Lewis Cook were excellent and I thought Morison played his part and led the line well for us."
Mainstays Absent: While the lineup changes were largely positive, it was discouraging to see players who have led the way up front either on the bench of missing altogether from the team-sheet. Mirco Antenucci and Alex Mowatt were on the bench, whereas Souleymane Doukara and Adryan were entirely absent from the squad that faced Bolton. These four players have carried the brunt of the offensive burden this season and it is discouraging to see their form dip so drastically. Hopefully Redfearn's bold decisions will serve as a wake up call for the players and they will return to the scoresheet in the coming weeks.
Slow Second Half Start: There is no denying that Leeds put in an inspired first half performance, but the time at which their lead was surrendered could not have come at a worse time. Surely Redfearn provided words of encouragement during his halftime talk and was urging his squad to keep up their disciplined and committed performance. Bolton's tally a mere three minutes after play resumed took the sail out of the Whites so to speak and changed the look of the entire match. If Leeds lasted the first five or even ten minutes without conceding it is very possible that they could have left Macron Stadium with three points rather than a share of the spoils.