For the second time this Billy Sharp popped up to snatch victory from the jaws of a draw in the last minute as Leeds overcame a spirited Huddersfield team 2-1. The second, consecutive victory and league double moved Leeds United further away from the grabbing clutches of a relegation battle and helped to continue a fourth game without defeat as they looked to build momentum. With the next game being against Brentford at Elland Road, Leeds will obviously be looking to carry this momentum forward to continue the resurgence under the auspices of the 4-2-3-1 formation.
Marco Silvestri’s distribution accuracy hit new depths in this game with a season-low 31% accuracy in his distribution, that coming from 7 successful goal kicks, 2 successful kick from hand, 1 successful throw and 2 successful kicked/passed clearances. The accuracy of Marco Silvestri’s distribution is one worry that Leeds United fans have commented on all season long, it is obviously a small concern when you weigh it up against his main goalkeeping strength which is his shot-stopping ability; which is currently around 71% when looking at only ‘open-play’ shots on target which require a save to be made. He did make one error against Huddersfield that led directly to the equaliser when he came for, and failed to claim, a corner played into the box which Huddersfield’s Harry Bunn gratefully placed into the gaping net.
The enforced change with Giuseppe Bellusci starting a mandatory 2-game suspension, after receiving his second red card of the season, might have unsettled a resurgent Leeds defensive unit; it didn’t pan out that way. Newly-arrived loan signing Sol Bamba had a fantastic game, as evidenced by the numbers that he put up. He had 2 successful tackles, 7 interceptions, 3 won headed contests, 13 clearances and a man-of-the-match award in his debut in a Leeds United shirt. As a group, the defensive back line made 11 tackles with Scott Wootton leading the way with 5 successful tackles (vs a per 90 minute average of 1.4 tackles) from 5 attempts, a 100% tackle success rate. With Sol Bamba having such a standout game as the right-sided centre back, Wooton’s 5 tackles helped to effectively lock down the right side of the Leeds defence. Scott Wootton also intercepted 3 passes which again is above his per 90 average return of 1.80 interceptions. It is reassuring to see a Leeds United defence looking so assured and, on the back of this performance and the next one, it might be a hard task for the currently suspended Giuseppe Bellusci to walk straight back into the team.
It was a closer affair in terms of passing between Huddersfield and Leeds (325 to 314 passes) and Leeds starting midfield quintet had 159 of those passing attempts, marginally over 50% (50.6%) of the team total attempts. Luke Murphy, Rodolph Austin and Lewis Cook had the more numerous attempts with 32, 42 and 30 pass attempts respectively. In terms of passing attempts, Alex Mowatt was the most disappointing with a low return of 13 passing attempts in the time that he was on the pitch before being substituted. Luke Murphy’s resurgent form continued with a beautifully-lobbed through ball for Byram to run onto for the game’s opening goal. He also weighed in with 4 successful tackles from 5 attempts (80% tackle success rate) as well as contributing 3 blocks on opponent balls (1 blocked shot and 2 blocked crosses). Luke Murphy, Lewis Cook and Rodolph Austin really are becoming the ‘Three Amigos’ in the centre of the park for Leeds United. When you add in the ‘makeshift’ attacking right midfielder in the shape of Sam Byram, then Leeds really are beginning to show a combination of flair and solidity in the midfield area. As I said, the weak link against Huddersfield was Alex Mowatt and it would be interesting to see if his place is taken by Adryan (to add more flair and creativity) or Tommaso Bianchi (to provide more steel and productivity). Whichever option is chosen, the new formation is still looking an upgrade over the 4-1-2-1-2 diamond that was the preferred tactic leading up to the end of 2014.
Steve Morison again led the line admirably, but didn’t have a goal to show for his endeavours. The lone striker role, integral to the success of the new tactical formation adopted by Leeds doesn’t necessarily demand goals, these coming from elsewhere and Morison being a ‘provider’ of sorts. However, with Leeds having signed 6’ 4" Albanian striker Edgar Çani on loan from Catania, is Steve Morison’s role at the head of the Leeds frontline living on borrowed time. Mirco Antenucci continues to be something of an enigma at the moment; his undoubted skill and guise is there in the 8 goals that he has scored this season but his play of late isn’t up to that standard. Saying that, he is being played not in his natural position and maybe this has something to do with his drop in form. However, the cross he provided with pin-point accuracy for Billy Sharp’s headed goal was a thing of beauty. He is also the most accurate passer of all Leeds United’s strikers (79%) and the most accurate shot-taker (49%). Billy Sharp again proved to be the opportunistic striker Leeds fans have been wanting to see with his third goal of the season.
With 8 points from a possible 12 available, the 2015 variant of Leeds United continues to roll forward with the next stop in the journey being Brentford at Elland Road...all aboard.