It was a bright but blustery afternoon for an essentially meaningless game of football, one given a little prior interest by the news that six Leeds players had pulled out of the game at late notice due to apparent injury. Given the backdrop, the news did at least serve as a reminder that we are not the only Championship club with a somewhat idiosyncratic owner. Just how would it affect the game? I can't say how their team lined up and what difference the absentees made. But from their supporters' chants for their manager (and references to Italians in general) I'm assuming that they are less than pleased, just as I wouldn't be if I'd paid for the travel and ticket.
For us? Perhaps it didn't help as we were sluggish, not collectively up for the game, an impression strengthened by Luzon's decision to rest some players. Poor first half, no complaints about being behind then, a change at the break, Berg Gudmundsson comes on, he's involved in two goals, and that was it, with Leeds unable to muster a threatening response. It really is time for the season to end, at least as far as we are concerned and there's little point griping about what that means as we play out games.
The team saw Ben Haim brought in alongside Gomez in central defence, with Solly and Fox the full-backs in front of Henderson. Diarra took one of the central midfield berths, partnering Buyens, with Bulot and Eagles the wide men, and Watt and Vetokele up front. That meant rests for Johnson, Cousins and Berg Gudmundsson, who all sat on the bench. I can't say what the thinking was, or how the players were feeling after the recent run of games, but I don't think anyone would have thought that if fully fit our strongest starting line-up would not include Gudmundsson at least.
No matter, we had the better of an inconclusive early phase, without troubling their keeper as we lacked precision in the final third. Good situations were worked, but Bulot when well positioned hit one of those that wasn't a shot on target or a low cross that anyone could get on the end of, Vetokele having cut inside well overhit the ball and lost it, while Eagles picked out the right pass but just underhit it. Things just weren't quite coming off, and there was early disruption as Diarra pulled up and hobbled off after only around 10 minutes, ensuring that Cousins' rest was short-lived.
After that generally encouraging start, we went off the boil and Leeds came more into it, and went on to create better actual chances than we had managed. First, a ball in was flicked on twice to find one of their guys coming in at the far post. With all the goal to aim at he hoofed it over the bar. Then Henderson got a bit too smart with a back-pass and with the forward closing him down attempted the clearance only for it to be blocked and end up going just wide of the post. The next chance went our way, as a corner was punched out by their keeper not very convincingly, Ben Haim ran onto the loose ball from outside the box and put in a shot, and I thought that Vetokele tried to deflect it goalwards only for the ball to hit the post.
But in general we were too sloppy in and out of possession and after about 35 minutes almost paid for it. Ben Haim was caught out by a ball forward and chasing after their guy going into the box slid in, only to make contact with him and not the ball. It seemed a pretty clear-cut penalty, the only relief being that the ref didn't seem to consider whether it was a goal-scoring opportunity and produced no card. The spot kick was hit firmly to Henderson's left, but he dived the right way, got fingertips to it, and diverted the ball onto the post and out.
Having been let off, you hoped we would raise our game. Instead we went behind not long after as a Leeds corner produced what looked like a training-ground routine, with the taker putting it into a place where their guy ran onto it, having lost his marker. He connected well and this time although Henderson got something on it the ball ended up in the roof of the net.
At the break things were not looking good. Watt seemed more interested in various tussles with their defenders and their number 4 who was protecting the back four, Vetokele continued to look short of both confidence and full fitness, Eagles had contributed well early on but hadn't made a telling contribution, while Bulot flattered to deceive on the other flank and Buyens seemed to be going through the motions. It looked like a case for a few words from Luzon in the dressing room and/or a change. Don't know about the former, but we did get the latter, with Gudmundsson replacing Eagles. A bit tough on him, but one way or another, if we were to get something from the game, he needed to be on the pitch.
Attacking the Covered End we started the second half well enough, as we had the first. But the only chance of note came early on, as Watt managed to set up Igor in a good central shooting position. He should have at least made the keeper work but hit it wide. By now, as reflected in the time-wasting, you had the impression that Leeds were reasonably happy to hold what they had and to try for what might had seemed ahead of the game, given the absentees, an unlikely victory. That was not to be, as Gudmundsson took it by the scruff of the neck. He may not be much good in the air, may not be able to tackle, but he can pick out the right cross and with about 15 minutes of the regular time left he floated one to the far post to find Watt, who hit is crisply on the volley into the far corner. It wasn't exactly a goal out of nothing, but wasn't exactly in keeping with our approach play and finishing that had gone before.
About five minutes later, Henderson managed to find Gudmundsson in space, he took it forward and inside and hit a reasonable shot. Their keeper parried it but didn't make it safe, Vetokele nicked it past him and took the contact. Whether or not he would have made it to the ball is another matter, but he had got to it first and been brought down, so penalty it was. Buyens may have been having an indifferent game, but he knows how to convert them and once more duly did.
Now the onus was on us to run down the clock, which we did to reasonable effect. Leeds had to chase it and tried, but I can't remember Henderson being called into anything more than routine action. The only event of note in the final stages was Vetokele taking an accidental knock to the head and groggily going off, being replaced by Church. And we managed to see out five minutes of stoppage time without a real scare.
Did we deserve the win? Over the 90 minutes probably not, but we scored a decent goal and converted our penalty when they failed with theirs. They may feel a little hard done-by, but couldn't muster a real threat in the second half, either to make the game safe or to square things up. And when the dust settles the chances are that neither sets of supporters will remember this one for long, both being more concerned about how the whims of their owners will translate into prospects for next season.
Henderson: 8/10. Superb penalty save, and this time we'll gloss over the moment when his dallying before clearing almost cost us.
Solly: 7/10. No real complaints, just didn't see much in the way of him bombing forward. In the second half I guess it was more a case of being available to support Gudmundsson.
Fox: 7/10. Solid enough, at the moment he's keeping Wiggins out on merit.
Ben Haim: 6/10. Coming back into the team he didn't seem to have the assurance we saw earlier in the season. Over the full game was decent, but was badly caught out in the move that led to the penalty and made the challenge that led to it.
Gomez: 7/10. Continues to impress.
Eagles: 6/10. Impressed early on and a little unlucky to be the one to be withdrawn to get Gudmundsson on the pitch.
Diarra: 6/10. Not really on long enough for a proper assessment.
Buyens: 5/10. For the most part he looked like he was playing well within the boundaries of what he can do. Some decent passes, a great penalty, but overall lacklustre.
Bulot: 5/10. Also lacklustre, generally peripheral today.
Watt: 6/10. Took his goal very well, more involved in the second half, but overall below par compared to what we have seen before.
Vetokele: 5/10. I really hope he recaptures the vibrancy and verve that he showed earlier in the season. No shortage of effort, but something, physically or mentally, isn't the same at the moment.
Subs: Cousins (7/10 - almost a full game, not great but OK); Gudmundsson (8/10 - he obviously changed the game); Church (6/10 - just a cameo at the death to help see out the game).