Regardless of your thoughts on the team's approach to the rest of the 2015/16 Championship season, Leeds United had a game to play Tuesday night at Brentford against the 10th place Bees. Sure, the FA Cup seems to be our best remaining chance for glory this year, but with relegation not out of the realm of possibility and the playoff still technically possible, Steve Evans wasn't going to let this team roll over and die at Griffin Park. They nearly did, but a late substitute saved the day and LUFC emerged against Brentford with a 1-1 draw.
There was also cause, if slight, for optimism entering this game. Chris Wood returned from his hamstring injury on Saturday and changed the face of the Leeds attack, opening up space and causing problems for the Bristol City defense. Toumani Diagouraga, the player of the year for Brentford and a long-time Steve Evans target, signed Monday, an upgrade for a thus-far mediocre if not overcrowded midfield. Souleymane Doukara had scored three goals in his last four games. And our other January signing, Mustapha Carayol, had shown signs of crossing and pace that could make him a dangerous threat on the wing.
Sadly, each of those reasons for optimism faded for the first 83 minutes of this game. After several early chances in the driving wind and rain, Chris Wood pulled up lame in the 15th minute and had to exit with a hamstring injury. We hope to find out more today about that.
Then, as he has seemed to do frequently in games of late playing in a flat 4-man midfield, Liam Bridcutt had a bad giveaway off a header, and NO ONE marked Brentford's Sam Saunders. He literally sauntered down the pitch as the defenders ran away from him and took an unmarked shot from the top of the box that beat Marco Silvestri on his right-hand side to put the Bees up 1-0. At that point, Leeds had more chances and more of the run of play, but found themselves down a starter and down a goal, and things looked bleak.
29’ Welp, this first 30 has been fabulous. pic.twitter.com/q2mKVu4Tf8— Through It All LIVE (@ThruItAllLIVE) January 26, 2016
Leeds still had a few chances in the half, and none was better than this Mirco Antenucci chance (at the end of the clip, after video of the Saunders goal):
Bees keeper David Button, coming off this incredible save last week, kept Brentford in the lead at the break 1-0. He'd continue to make saves when needed throughout the second half, though Leeds rarely really challenged him. Silvestri wasn't put to much work either. Our writer Linnerz pointed out in his preview that neither team had been able to score many goals this season, especially Brentford of late, so we should expect a low-scoring affair, and he predicted a 1-1 draw.
That certainly felt true in the second half; the weakness in attack for both sides was evident with a boring and sloppy kick around the pitch. Antenucci was denied a penalty, much to the dismay of Leeds players and fans, but it was probably the correct call, and that was our only real chance for a long stretch despite looking the better side for the entire half.
Toumani Diagouraga made his Leeds debut, coming on for an ineffective Luke Murphy in the 60th, much to the chagrin of the Bees faithful. But it wasn't until Carayol came on for Dallas in the 77th and three Leeds players picked up yellow cards in the 79th that the team really started pressing, which honestly made for a great final 10 minutes.
After a bad clearance by the Brentford backline, the ball bounced to Mustapha Carayol in the 84th minute, and he knew what to do with it:
Really, from then, the game was turned on its head. Doukara, still fighting and staying onside a lot better in this one, forced Button into a late save, Antenucci had a chance or three as well, and Brentford had chances at our end too before the five minutes of added time were up. The game ended 1-1, giving a single point to Leeds at Griffin Park, and pushing them to 14th in the table after 29 games.
A few interesting quotes from Steve Evans and tweets from some fans after the game:
Evans said he still thinks there's "plenty to play for in the league" but admitted an FA Cup run is a big target now. #lufc— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) January 26, 2016
Evans on Chris Wood's injury: "He pulled up with a tight hamstring but we won't know the extent of it until the morning." #lufc— Leeds United (@LUFC) January 26, 2016
Evans still hopeful of getting new signings in before the deadline. Said Leeds are quite far down the line with a couple. #lufc— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) January 26, 2016
Hardest game I had to play but good point in the end and great support #lufc— Toumani diagouraga (@toums20) January 26, 2016
So what I've gathered from tonight is that we're HAPPY WITH A POINT AT BRENTFORD, whereas the likes of Ipswich wouldn't be...#NoToMediocrity— Dirty Leeds Scum (@DirtyLeedsBlog) January 26, 2016
While you're happy to get a point on the road from a team ahead of you in the table, you're also stuck realizing Leeds should probably be much better than this. The team looked woeful at times, dominant at times, and mediocre for most of the 90 minutes. The loss of Chris Wood will surely hurt this team come Saturday against the also-woeful Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup, and maybe the addition of Diagouraga to the midfield will help solidify a weak middle of the pitch, but goodness gracious: this is Leeds, isn't it? We've only won twice since Christmas, and this often isn't enjoyable to watch, as the home fans made clear at half on Saturday and the away fans made clear at Brentford:
Steve Evans admitted he made a mistake with the formation in the first half, again, but this has been several weeks in a row of poor performance out of the gate, finding ourselves down off sloppy play on defense, and needing a comeback just to salvage something. I'm tired of it as a fan, but trying to remain hopeful Evans can turn it around, as I really do enjoy his personality off the pitch. I wish that were enough.
How do you feel about it? A point at 10th place Brentford, a late comeback goal from a January signing, a draw in tough conditions on the road... it's all a mixed bag, isn't it? Let us know in the comments, we'd love to hear from you. Thanks for all the interaction on @ThruItAllLIVE on Twitter throughout the game and on @ThruItAllLUFC throughout the week. We'll have more for you on the FA Cup tie against Bolton in the days to come. For now, thanks for reading, #MOT.