Dan James earns praise from Marcelo Bielsa after double strike helps Leeds United make a point at Aston Villa

Marcelo Bielsa praised the contribution of two-goal Dan James as the stand-in striker helped Leeds United battle back from 3-1 down to collect an important point from a 3-3 draw at Aston Villa.

By Tony Harber
Thursday, 10th February 2022, 10:45 am
Dan James scored two goals in Leeds United's thrilling 3-3 draw at Aston Villa.
Dan James scored two goals in Leeds United's thrilling 3-3 draw at Aston Villa.

In an incident-packed game the Whites went from heroes to zeroes and back again in a game they could have won in the end with their hosts playing out the closing stages with 10 men following the late sending off of defender Ezri Konsa.

Defensively Leeds were pulled apart at times in the first half as they conceded three times, but they always looked a big threat up front with James scoring two goals, also in the opening 45 minutes, and unlucky to hit the crossbar in his best game as a central striker.

"I am very happy for him,” said Bielsa who before the game had reiterated that he thought James could do a good job for his team in the striker role in the continued absence of Patrick Bamford.

“I sincerely value the contribution Dan makes to our game. That he scored is a lot better, but even when he doesn't score he makes contributions for our offensive game to be profound.

“We count on creative players to construct the offensive game. To attack is very difficult, it's the most difficult thing in football and it's difficult to play well for those players in attack continuously."

On the way the match itself went Bielsa added: "It was a game with alternative dominance with moments of good football from both teams. A second half that didn't stand out as much.

"Perhaps we could have unbalanced in the second half. We created a few more chances which we were in conditions to do.

“What we wanted was to prevent them from creating danger, but for us to continue to attack with fluidity.

“The fact we were only one goal behind at half-time strengthened us.”

The scene was quickly set for one of the most exciting games of the season in the first half as Villa initially forced early pressure and Illan Meslier had to make his first save, keeping the ball out after Tyrone Mings challenge for a dangerous corner.

More corners followed with United having difficulty dealing with them, but they survived and from their first decent attack took the lead.

Rodrigo won the ball high up the pitch and quickly found James, who placed his shot well into the bottom corner of the net.

James had a chance for another when Rodrigo slipped him in behind the home defence, but the angle proved too tight and his effort was saved by keeper Emi Martinez.

It was end to end action as Villa came close from another corner when Tyrone Mings was free in the box only to send his header wide, but Leeds went even closer to scoring again with James crashing a well hit shot off the top of the crossbar following a good move and a good run by Jack Harrison.

Moments later United were caught napping at the back as Villa equalised through recent signing Philippe Coutinho who was allowed space in the area and shot past Meslier in similar fashion to James' opening goal.

Coutinho then had a purple patch as his great passes set up two goals for Jacob Ramsey who was allowed to run through unchecked from midfield with the Leeds backline all over the place.

Now it looked like Bielsa's men were heading for another away hiding, but crucially they managed to pull a goal back just before the break as Mateusz Klich's backheel gave Rodrigo space in the box and his cross was deflected upwards for James to unbelievably beat England defender Mings in the air to head home from close range.

The second half was nowhere near as thrilling with the game broken up by injury after injury and Villa happy to take the pace out of the contest.

Leeds made the running and Stuart Dallas was unlucky to see a deflection take the sting out of his shot to give Martinez an easy save.

Corners began to look dangerous for United and Pascal Struijk was left unmarked, but his powerful header was well cleared off the line by Mings.

The next flag kick did bring a goal, though, as Struijk's header was again blocked by Mings, but Diego Llorente reacted like lightning to score from the rebound.

In between the various stoppages Leeds fashioned two more chances as Klich found space only for his left foot shots on each occasion to lack power.

Villa went down to 10 men after the already booked Konsa prevented Meslier from clearing the ball quickly after he had caught a corner. A sending off could be only the result, even for a referee who struggled to get things right all night, and the home defender could have got an instant red as it was his elbow that went into the Leeds keeper's face.

United had a great chance now to press home their advantage, but Villa were clever in seeing the game out in eight minutes of added time that could have been much more after there had been so many stoppages in the second half.

(Coutinho 30, Ramsey 38, 43)

(James 9, 45, Llorente 63)

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Premier League

Attendance: 41,927

Villa: Martinez; Cash, Konsa (sent-off 87), Mings, Digne; Luiz, McGinn, Ramsey (Chambers 89); Buendia (Chukwuemeka 59), Watkins, Coutinho (Young 78).

Leeds: Meslier; Ayling, Llorente, Struijk, Dallas; Koch; Raphinha, Klich (Forshaw 85), Rodrigo, Harrison; James.

Referee: Jarred Gillett