We were let off the hook to a large extent. It's going to make for an interesting run-in though
With ten games to go, we went into March on an inconsistent run but still in the top two and on the back of an away win. Next up in the keague was top side Huuddersfield, as we geared up for a tasty run-in. We had Barry Douglas back from injury which was something to shout about. I mentioned in the last update, February would be the test of whether we sink or swim and whilst we hardly thrived, we didn't sink either and now had to make the most of the fact that we were still in charge of our own destiny.
FA Cupt Fifth Round
George Puscas 12
Lucas Joao 47
Lucas Boye 84
After a month away, the FA Cup was back. As great as it is to see from a neutral's point of view, I was pretty ambivalent towards it, at least for this season. We have a promotion to chase down and as far as I'm concerned, this was an unnecessary distraction. At least by getting to the Fifth Round, it meant the board were kept happy. I did at least want a positive performance.
The hosts took the lead just after the ten minute mark. Pele played a through ball to George Puscas, who wriggled away from Ben White and fired past Kiko Casilla one-on-one. We were fairly evenly matched for the rest of the half, but were unable to find a way through like Reading had.
We started the second half poorly and within a couple of minutes of the restart, Reading had doubled their advantage. Pele picked out a gaping hole in our defence and found Lucas Joao, all alone and onside. You know how the rest goes. We made a half-hearted effort at getting back into it but not like the first half. With just over five minuteds remaining, the tie was dead and buried. This time, Lucas Joao played a through ball and some slack defending (for a change) saw Lucas Boye clear of defenders and one-on-one with Casilla.
It was a really poor performance. We didn't begin to show up and that was something I was annoyed with. But I was equally relieved. Any further progress would've been a distraction and we if we go up automatically, that will be the last time we play Reading this season, who have been awkward customers for us.
Jack Harrison 24
Leeds United 1-0
With no cup games left to play and just ten games left to play in the next two-and-a-bit months, we hah no excuses left. With everything in our hands and an effectively fully fit squad, only we stood between ourselves and the Premier League. No more dossing off at the back and no more single-minded attacking (i'm looking at you, Helder Costa). What better place to start than with a Yorkshire Derby against a side four points clear of ourselves?
We dominated the game and spent the majority of it passing and probing around Huddersfield's half. A marked difference to the reverse clash at the John Smith's Stadium. We bagged the only goal of the game when Leif Davis got onto a wide ball from Adam Forshaw. Davis pulled the ball back to Jack Harrison on the edge of the area, who took a touch before smashing it into the roof of the net.
In one of the most important games of the season, our defence finally turned up and limited Huddersfield to four chances. It kept us on top and when we were putting in that sort of performance, all it was going to take was one goal. We should play like this more often.
Cardiff City 0-1
Jack Harrison 29
With our back-to-back wins in the league came a chance to make it three in three, which wouldn't be a bad run to set off on at this stage of the season. This time, our chance came away at Cardiff City, who we'd already beaten 4-0 at our place and who were sat 22nd, facing back-to-back relegations.
It was another pleasing dominant performance, in which at no point did we look like letting Cardiff come away with any sort of result. We could've done to have finished more of the many chances we created, but we proved- as we had against Huddersfield- it takes one shot to score a goal and one goal to win a game. It came just before the half hour mark, when Jack Harrison lost his marker to head home a Barry Douglas corner. Cardiff turned up to park the bus, but we just had too much for them. Three in three, thank you very much.
Patrick Bamford 53
Leeds United 1-1
Liam Cooper own goal 86
We were on good form going into this one. Three wins in a row and starting to look once again like genuine promotion candidates. Under the lights, we welcomed Fulham, who since they beat us at Craven Cottage, had won just twice in their last fifteen games and lost five of their last six, slumped down in 16th. Of course, I was wary of they are capable of as I'd seen it first hand, but I also felt good about our chances.
We went into half-time goalless. We were firmly on top, dominating possession and creating plenty of good chances. The only thing we didn't do right is not taking any of those chances.
Eight minutes after the restart, it was Patrick Bamford who broke the deadlock and put us 1-0 up. It was a pretty routine set-piece, with Barry Douglas sending an in-swinging corner which Bamford met at the far post, stroking it ome with his left foot. But this is Leeds United, ever the architects of our own downfall and after another half of total domination, we still found a way to throw points away. Aboubakar Kamara had got through on goal. Liam Cooper arrived with a slide tackle which, while clean, led to a loose ball which wrong-footed Kiko Casilla- who was expecting a shot directed the other side of him- and trickled into the bottom corner.
It was absolutely infuriating. I was livid that for all those chances we created, we couldn't put more than one of them away. On the rare occasion that Fulham did create a chance, we finished the move for them. Absolutely bloody typical. Leeds, that.
Patrick Bamford 9
Leeds United 4-3
Patrick Bamford 15
Jack Harrison 64
Alan Sheehan 52
Patrick Bamford 90
James Collins 67
James Collins 76
Frustrating though the Fulham game was, it meant we came into our last game before the spring international break on the back of four games unbeaten. We were still 2nd, which although it meant we still hadn't stolen a march on top spot, it also meant we were making ourselves pretty difficult for the sides below us to dislodge. Elland Road was ready for fixture number 40, the visit of 21st-placed Luton Town.
We started brightly and within ten minutes, we were a goal up. Leif Davis got into some space down the left, before floating over a cross for Patrick Bamford to head home. On the quarter hour, it was 2-0. In an almost visually similar move, Davis had space and time on the left hand side, on the end of Jack Harrison's through ball, before crossing for Bamford at the near post to head home once more.
We went into half-time in the driver's seat. We were two goals to the good and playing Luton off the park. You know how the next bit goes.
Niclas Eliasson whipped a free kick over from near the right corner flag, across the corridor of uncertainty and onto the head of ex-Leeds man Alan Sheehan, putting the Hatters back in with a shout.
We seemed to have killed the game off shortly after the hour. Luke Ayling played a quick crossfield ball from a free kick to Harrison, who took one touch to get away from his marker and another to fire home and restore our advantage.
That wasn't the end of it. Just three minutes later, George Moncur flicked on a long free kick to James Collins. Collins found himself all alone and being played onside by Ben White, before tucking it into the bottom corner. He then pulled Luton level with a drive from 25 yards which found the bottom corner, with our defence slow to close him down.
It was beginning to look like another two points pissed away until the last minute. Tyler Roberts played a long ball to Bamford on the counter attack. He found himself all alone and onside and made a run into the box, where he fired a shot across the keeper and into the far corner, completing a wonderful hat-trick.
It was alarmingly sloppy in the second half and ultimately, we were bailed out by Bamford being on top form. Credit where it's due to Luton though, who put up a serious fight after half time.
PLAYER OF THE MONTH
I know it's probably easy to hand the award to Bamford straight off the back of scoring a hat-trick, but he had the quality in front of goal to turn one point against a struggling team into three. Not only that, but he has been particularly useful throughout the rest of the month too, scoring in the 1-1 draw against Fulham and helping us in the final third in games he hasn't scored in. His hold up play can often be second to none and makes him a valuable asset to our side. Honourable mention goes to Jack Harrison, who has bagged against Huddersfield, Cardiff and Luton and continued to be a nuisance in the final third this month.
You know when I said "this is it" at the end of February? Well I lied. This
is it. Six games remaining, five of which are to be played in April, after the international break. Half of the teams we'll face find themselves in and around the playoffs and they're all away fixtures, against Blackburn (7th), Swansea (6th) and Derby (9th). Three points clear of 3rd and a point off top spot. The heat is on.
IN OTHER NEWS
There's just been the one managerial exit in the Championship this month, with Stoke City's lowly position in 20th enough evidence for the board that Michael O'Neill was no longer the right man for the job. He's been replaced by ex-Leicester boss, Nigel Pearson.
In the Champions League, Real Madrid got their revenge on Ajax, beating them 4-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu to progress to the quarter-final with an aggregate win of 7-3. Elsewhere in the competition, Barcelona came from behind in their tie against Bayern Munich, winning 2-0 at the Nou Camp and 2-1 on aggregate; Man City eventually progressed past Valencia with a 2-1 home win (5-4 on aggregate); whilst holders Liverpool showed no mercy against FC Kobenhavn, winning 5-0 at home for an aggregate score of 8-0.
In the Europa League, Man Utd scraped through to the quarter final on away goals against Roma, after losing 3-2 on the night at the Stadio Olimpico; whilst Arsenal overcame a 1-0 deficit against Lille with an emphatic 4-1 win at the Emirates Stadium.
In the Premier League, it is still very tight at the top, with just a point to separate leaders Man City from Man Utd. Liverpool, completing the rivals' triangle are in hot pursuit, five points Man Utd with a game in hand and a meeting with Solskjaer's side straight after the international break.
In domestic competitions, Reading made it to Wembley, beating Bristol City 2-0 at the Madejski Stadium to set up a semi-final with Liverpool whilst Man City hammered Arsenal 3-0, with their semi-final coming against last year's beaten finalists Watford. Man Utd beat Huddersfield in the Carabao Cup Final, with goals coming from Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw in a 2-0 win.