Leeds United 1 Sheffield Wednesday 1: Milanic and Gray happy to share derby spoils

Leeds and Wednesday.
Leeds and Wednesday.
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HONOURS ended even in an often fiery derby clash that saw Giuseppe Bellusci earn a point for Leeds United by cancelling out Chris Maguire’s opener.

The 80th minute strike by the Italian centre half was not only the first goal scored under new head coach Darko Milanic but it also ensured Leeds gained some deserved reward for their efforts.

Of the two goalkeepers, Keiren Westwood was undoubtedly the busier with his double save to deny Mirco Antenucci early in the second half being of the highest order.

But it was Wednesday who took the lead seven minutes after the restart thanks to a quite wonderful strike from Maguire.

As the game then descended into trench warfare with no quarter asked or given on either side - and referee James Adcock had to brandish five cards in six minutes - that looked like being that.

But then Bellusci produced an ‘eye of the needle’ finish after Wednesday had failed to clear a corner to earn both teams their second draw in as many games this week.

In the midweek goalless draw at home to Reading, Leeds had taken 85 minutes to test the visiting goalkeeper.

Clearly, Darko Milanic did not want to see a repeat and his side started brighter than the visitors.

With Tomasso Bianchi pulling the strings from the base of a midfield diamond and Alex Mowatt’s energy giving United some direction, United carried a very real threat.

On 13 minutes, the duo combined well as Bianchi played Mowatt through and the teenager brought a brave block from Kieren Westwood.

The Owls goalkeeper then had to show his agility to tip over a sweving 35-yard effort from Rudy Austin, while Souleymane Doukara also dragged a shot just wide during an impressive start by the hosts.

Wednesday struggled to match Leeds’ attacking thrusts during that first half with only Chris Maguire offering much threat on the ball.

Atdhe Nuhiu did have an early chance with a header after being picked out by Maguire but he headed over but the closest the visitors came in the opening 45 minutes came just before the break when Stevie May headed wide from a Maguire cross.

Within seven minutes of the restart, however, Stuart Gray’s side were ahead thanks to a stunning drilled finish from Maguire after Leeds had been opened up down their right flank.

Either side of that goal, Westwood had saved his side with two stops that left Mirco Antenucci holding his head in frustration.

First, he kept out a drilled shot from the United striker that had looked like capping a fine sweeping move by the hosts.

Then, just two minutes after Maguire’s opener, Westwood pulled off a fine one-handed save to keep out a ferocious drive from Antenucci.

After that, both sets of players rather lost their heads - as illustrated by referee James Adcock having to show five yellow cards inside just five minutes around the midpoint of the second half.

Once the football resumed, Leeds got back on level terms with ten minutes remaining when Bellusci side-footed a shot through a meleee of players after the Owls had failed to clear a corner.

In a frantic finale, Austin shot wide and Jason Pearce had to get across to block Jeremy Helan after the Owls’ substitute had barged his way into a promising position.

Marco Silvestri then had to keep out a smart shot on the turn from Gary Madine in stoppage time as the game finished level.

“We had a good game, yes,” said Milanic, whose first game last weekend ended in a 2-0 defeat at Brentford before a goalless midweek draw against Reading.

“We had a good game with a lot of energy with a lot of good play also in the last third, which is what we missed in the last game.

“We had some very good actions, we played well and we had some very good opportunities, but the goalkeeper was extremly good.

“After they scored it was very difficult and we lost a little bit of calm.

“But after we made it 1-1 I believed that we could win the game.

“We played against a team who were very quick to get behind the ball and there was not a lot of space, but we did it sometimes very well.

“The players here have quality, but we have to do somethings better in the game.”

Milanic refused to be drawn on whether he felt his side could mount a play-off challenge.

“My job is to improve the team,” he added. “I have to see the players on the field in a big game like this and they have the quality, yes.

“There’s enough quality. But my job is to improve them like I said.

“We’re working very hard to make a good team.

Wednesday routed Leeds 6-0 at Hillsborough the last time the two sides met in January, but Owls manager Stuart Gray said they fell below the standards they had set so far this season having lost only two of their 10 league games prior to kick-off.

“That wasn’t us,” Gray said. “We didn’t pass it as well as we’d passed it and our ball retention wasn’t good.

“Second half we tried to get more physical presence and more of a focal point up front and we got a foothold in the game and a great goal from Chris Maguire.

“At the end of the day you’re not always going to get it your own way. You need to dig in and we had Kieren Westwood pulling off some fantastic saves.

“But then I thought after we got in front we’d go on and win the game.”