'Most complete performance' cannot save Leeds United from defeat at Aston Villa

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After enduring a frustrating night when Leeds United somehow contrived to lose a game in which they were the better team once again Jesse Marsch labelled Leeds United's performance at Aston Villa "the most complete since I've been here."

Twelve corners to the home side's none showed how much pressure the Whites exerted on their opponents and they had a club Premier record number of touches in the Villa box.

But a combination of missed chances, great saves by World Cup winning keeper Emiliano Martinez and woeful defending twice saw them lose 2-1 to stay firmly in the relegation zone.

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And once again there was plenty of poor officiating to talk about particularly with Villa allowed to get away with far too much time wasting and getting nowhere near the cards they should have received – including not having a player booked for blocking a free-kick when within 10 yards of the ball, an offence that had seen Luis Sinisterra sent-off in the home game with Villa in October.

Patrick Bamford was on target on his return to the Leeds United team after injury.Patrick Bamford was on target on his return to the Leeds United team after injury.
Patrick Bamford was on target on his return to the Leeds United team after injury.

It seems the referee did have an option this time as Michael Oliver did when he turned a deaf ear to a huge penalty shout when Rodrigo was pulled back in the box in the first half. He gave much lesser offences round the pitch and VAR did not intervene as they did to correctly rule that Villa's ultimate winner was not offside after a flag had gone up.

VAR also confirmed the skinniest of offside decisions that denied Rodrigo a first half goal.

But after unlucky 2-2 draws with West Ham and Cardiff in their previous two matches when they did more than enough to have won both it is becoming a pattern for Leeds and the fact is the Whites have yet to win since the World Cup break.

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Head coach Marsch took a bit of stick from travelling supporters, but insisted that he was happy with the display of his team.

He said: "In our sport sometimes you can be on top and lose.

"This is for me our most complete performance we've had since I've been here and the best example of how I believe the team can play.

"There's frustration that we lose the points when we play well but I think we have something to attach ourselves to and a benchmark for how good we can be.

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"Of course the fans are disappointed we don't get the points. Anyone that watches knows that's a good performance and a good team. When the team doesn’t win then the coach is always going to take the heat. I'm focused entirely on our team."

"I understand the expectations that come with Leeds United. More positive than I have ever been.

"We are urging the players to play with more clarity and commitment to the tactical idea. It's required a lot of creative thinking about analysis to try to help the players understand what we want and then commit to it.

"I see it a lot in training, but the stress of the matches sometimes means players either go back to natural feelings or how we handle stress means we are not able to be as clear as we'd like. Eleven players at all moments tonight committed to it."

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Leeds went straight at Villa, but forcing an early corner proved their undoing as a swift break saw Boubacar Kamara allowed to run a long way with the ball before finding Leon Bailey on the right. He then all too easily cut inside Pascal Struijk and beat keeper Illan Meslier with a fine strike.

The pattern of the game soon settled into Leeds doing all the pressing and their hosts relying on sporadic breaks. Meslier was not tested again in the rest of the half, while a great run by Jack Harrison had Villa back pedalling and his low ball in found Rodrigo only for the Spanish striker to take a heavy touch and see the chance disappear with a clearance for a corner.

A clever free-kick by Brenden Aaronson set up Rrodrigo again, but as he turned he was pulled back by Tyrone Mings. It was no surprise on this night that no penalty was forthcoming.

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Rodrigo had another chance as he raced onto a through ball by Harrison and rounded Martinez only to see his shot cleared by Moreno.

A storming finish to the half by United should have brought reward, but when Luke Ayling's brilliant cross was met by a close range half-volley by Harrison an outstanding reaction save by Martinez somehow kept the ball out of the net.

Leeds did have the ball in the net a minute later as Rodrigo chested the ball back for Aaronson in the area. Although his shot was blocked Rodrigo put the ball in the net while still on the floor only to have his effort ruled out for offside. Replays appeared to show him an inch offside and there was no respite from VAR.

The second half started in the same style with Rodrigo racing away to set up Aaronson who had his shot deflected over.

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Willy Gnonto – again enjoying a fine game – was next to test Martinez with a curling shot, but the keeper was again up to the task with an acrobatic save.

ALex Moreno and Douglas Luiz managed shots for Villa as their breaks became more frequent for a spell.

But again it was Rodrigo threatening when he was in on an angle, but his shot went into the side netting.

Tyler Adams appeared to have been played through, but Ashley Young did well to get a boot to the ball first in a desperate last ditch tackle. And to rub salt into the wound Villa broke straight from this to score their crucial second goal.

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Bailey was again allowed to cut in too easily and his shot was only parried by Meslier straight to Emi Buendia who headed home the rebound. He was flagged offside but VAR changed the decision to a goal as he was onside as the shot came in.

Leeds continued to press as Gnonto went on a clever run only to see his shot deflected wide.

They were finally rewarded as Gnonto went past two players on a great run into the area and his low pass was put away by substitute Patrick Bamford who scored confidently on his return from injury.

After coming from two down to draw late on at Cardiff lightning did not strike twice for the Whites who were unable to equalise. The closest they came to a second goal was when Sam Greenwood's free-kick into a dangerous was somehow scrambled clear by the home defence.

(Bailey 3, Buendia 64)

Leeds United 1

(Bamford 83)

Friday, January 13, 2023

Premier League

Attendance: 42,008

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Aston Villa: Martinez; Young, Konsa, Mings, Digne (Moreno 10); Buendia (Coutinho 81), Luiz, Kamara, Ramsey (Sandon 81), Watkins (Ings 31), Bailey.

Leeds: Meslier; Ayling, Koch (Firpo 88), Cooper, Struijk (Wober 66); Adams, Roca (Greenwood 72); Harrison (Bamford 66), Aaronson (Gelhardt 77), Gnonto; Rodrigo.

Referee: Michael Oliver