After an agonizing, abysmal, atrocious first half, Leeds United salvaged a win and a much-needed three points from their game today against Bristol City at Elland Road. The early second half subsitution of Chris Wood for Mustapha Carayol and a return to a 4-4-2 formation was the difference maker today, as Wood's presence opened up space in the box and gave Souleymane Doukara the space he needed to slot home the match winner on a bouncing ball.
The first half was unbelievably bad. The 21st place Bristol City had only won five games all year, but they exposed why Leeds didn't sit any higher than 17th coming into this one. The Robins had more of the ball than Leeds, who looked stuck in the midfield and didn't post any threats for the first 45. Liam Bridcutt had several bad giveaways in our end, Charlie Taylor was called on repeatedly to keep Bristol from scoring, and Marco Silvestri again made several saves, and the team went into the break down 0-0 and without the support of their fans who were rightfully upset.
@ThruItAllLIVE the words being used in the south stand aren't poetic today. Stating the obvious the game needs a goal. Sub needed Antenucci— Anthony (@Fractured_Box) January 23, 2016
You'd assume then that with what BBC Sport's Adam Pope called "the sort of first half performance that gets head managers sacked," Leeds would have to make a change. They did not, as the same XI that started the game came out in the second half. The first five minutes were as similar to the first half as you'd expect, but then Chris Wood, the long-injured striker, made his first appearance of 2016.
The team has struggled without Wood to score goals from the striker position: Doukara has had some fluke chances find the net, Antenucci hasn't had a goal since early November, and the rest of our options haven't done much either. As soon as he arrived back on the pitch at Elland Road, his quality (and how much we missed him) showed. He won several balls in the second half, able to deal with the size of Bristol's defenders in a way the lone striker Doukara hadn't been able to in the first.
He also created a great deal of space, as you can see in the goal above. Wood won corner kicks, bossed the defense, and was in the right place at the right time for the Dallas cross to bounce off him to the open Souleymane Doukara. Doukara coolly slotted it to Bristol keeper Richard O'Donnell's left, much to his credit, and earning himself a standing ovation when he was later subbed for Mirco Antenucci and his beard.
The rest of the second half was nearly as frustrating as the first, with Bristol having as many chances than Leeds (if not more); but up a goal, you could see Leeds had taken the foot off the gas a bit. It almost cost them in the 87th minute, as Silvestri nearly coughed up a ball in the box for an easy Robins goal, but he was able to smother it in time to avoid the howler.
So Leeds win a rough one at Elland Road and get a much-needed three points. They sit 11 points shy of promotion, 11 clear of relegation, and really, that feels about right. We've been a middle of the pack team at best over the last month or two, and it's time to admit it. With talk of the playoffs no longer a distraction (barring a remarkable miracle run), the team can focus on finding an identity and palying solid football for the next few months in hopes of preparing for next season.
Of course, we wouldn't be an optimistic fan blog if we didn't think a miracle run (for promotion and in the FA cup) could be in the cards.
We'll have to wait and see on that. An ugly win is still a win, so we'll take it and welcome Chris Wood back to the squad. Looking forward to seeing what happens this week with another rumored signing and Toumani Diagouraga's transfer situation. See you next Saturday for the FA Cup fourth round tie at Bolton. #MOT