And breathe… Elland Road deflated into a nervous silence as time slowed to a standstill when Leeds linchpin Raphinha stood over the penalty spot in the fourth minute of added time with the opportunity to win it. An emotionally-invested 35,558-sized crowd pleaded with desperation after Crystal Palace defender, Marc Guehi, was adjudged to have blocked a late effort by Leeds captain Liam Cooper with his arm. Following a dramatic VAR check, the hopes of the crowd once again falling on the shoulders of Raphinha to successfully convert the penalty and send Elland Road into pure pandemonium.
It was a precariously open but incredibly engaging affair as Marcelo Bielsa’s squad faced an improved Crystal Palace side that was unbeaten in eight league games before their loss against Aston Villa last weekend. The hosts looked alike to their former selves with a high-pressured, energetic work rate with crunching tackles that never fails to rally what is always a passionately, demanding home crowd. But most importantly, Leeds earned themselves a hugely precious three points, pushing them two places up the Premier League table to fifteenth, and now a considerably more appealing five points from the relegation zone.
With every fixture beginning to adopt the menacing aura of a play-off final, the emphasis on gaining positive results has ultimately become the most desired outcome in order to build some much-needed momentum. Now, as we welcome the introduction of the festive season, the impetus for building momentum grows larger and there’s no better month to do so. With the next clash just three days away, a chance to resurrect some recent nostalgic Championship rivalry ensues as Leeds welcome, at the time of writing this, eleventh placed Brentford back to West Yorkshire.
Upon reflection of Leeds’ joyous promotion season during 2019/20, Brentford were one of the most consistent teams to push the Whites throughout the entire campaign, finishing in third and eventually a fairly sizable twelve points behind Bielsa’s side. That season, a West London derby ensued during a play-off final where Fulham came out victorious and left Brentford to entertain another year in the Championship. The result sparked the delight of the Leeds United squad in response to the Bees’ manager, Thomas Frank, suggesting Leeds should “come up with an answer” after dropping form during what was a relentless promotion race. Fast-forward seventeen months and the two clubs are once again competing with England’s elite, battling to maintain their Premier League status, and no doubt ready to revive a good-natured rivalry once again.
Looking ahead to Sunday afternoon, Leeds have no time to ride the wave of Tuesday’s victory with the chance to close the gap on Brentford and finally be within touching distance from the top half of the Premier League table. It’s crazy what a successful week could do…
Regardless of a historically fluctuating record with each other, Leeds were undefeated against Frank’s side in their promotion season, earning themselves a 1-0 home win following a late winner from former Arsenal-loanee Eddie Nketiah, as well as a 1-1 draw at Brentford’s previous stadium, Griffin Park. But now as the two once again meet on equal grounds, only the importance of Sunday’s result matters. Leeds will be tasked with keeping Bees talisman, Ivan Toney quiet (which is easier said than done for a forward that broke the Championship’s record goal tally with thirty-three goals last year), whilst also likely to be welcoming back former Leeds defender and cult hero, Pontus Jansson, back to LS11 - however welcome that may be.
But for Leeds, things are looking up again. On the back of their third win of the season, gaining daylight between the bottom three is ultimately the aim. Now on the brink of a hectic festive fixture schedule, the offering of a whole amalgamation of points in true Christmas spirit provides a task that now seems far more achievable than before. Bielsa’s squad have completed the first major objective of beating Crystal Palace and now with a squad radiating belief, back-to-back league clean sheets for the first time since May, and a Bielsa-Phillips ‘feud’ unsurprisingly squashed, the Whites can head into the game with all guns blazing in recognisable, expressive Leeds United fashion… not that it’s ever really any other way.