Big Match Verdict - Leeds United 0 Wolves 3: First goal hurts fragile Whites once again

LOSING to a side who have had the look of champions since the opening days of the season is no disgrace.

Leeds rookie keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell saves at the feet of Wolves' Leo Bonatini. Picture Tony Johnson.
Leeds rookie keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell saves at the feet of Wolves' Leo Bonatini. Picture Tony Johnson.

What surely can be questioned, however, is Leeds United’s appalling inability to fight their way back into games after falling behind.

For the 14th time in the Championship this term, the Elland Road club conceded the opening goal last night and went on to lose.

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Only the Boxing Day win at Burton Albion and last month’s 2-2 draw at home to Bristol City bucks this alarming trend.

In contrast, Leeds have won 13 and lost just one of the 16 league games in which they have broken the deadlock.

It is a damning record that points to a group who are fine when on top but lack the mental fortitude to dig out results when the going gets tough.

Certainly, Wolverhampton Wanderers never looked in danger of missing out on a victory that opened up a six-point lead over the chasing pack once in front through Romain Saiss.

In fact, but for the heroics of Bailey Peacock-Farrell in the Leeds goal, this could have been a rout.

The 21-year-old’s only other senior appearances this season had come in National League North with York City. And even that loan spell didn’t go too well, Peacock-Farrell conceding nine times in four outings.

Against the Championship’s deadliest attack, however, he was a revelation. After drawing appreciative applause from the Gelderd End with a fine reflex save to deny Ivan Cavaleiro early on, he also kept out first-half efforts by Diogo Jota and Leo Bonatini.

Peacock-Farrell’s encouraging performance was a welcome fillip for Paul Heckingbottom on an otherwise chastening night that underlined the gulf that exists between Leeds and a club who spent big last summer in the quest to reach the Premier League. His side had actually started well, hassling and harrying the the famous old gold shirts at every turn.

As most in the 26,434 crowd roared their appreciation, Nuno Espirito Santo was demonstratively urging his players to calm down from the touchline.

His pleas were soon being heeded, as Wolves started to spray the ball around with a freedom that belied a seemingly one-time unassailable lead at the summit having been cut by Cardiff City to just three points the previous evening.

The breakthrough arrived shortly before the half-hour, Saiss heading in unchallenged from a Barry Douglas corner.

There had been a very fortunate let-off for the hosts on 21 minutes when a lightning quick break ended with Matt Doherty crossing for Jota, who somehow made a total hash of what was a simple chance.

Wolves’ second goal on the stroke of half-time was equally soft. Again, Douglas’s pinpoint set-piece delivery from in front of the towering East Stand proved too much for a statuesque backline.

United seemed to have got lucky when Danny Batth headed against the crossbar but Willy Boly made no mistake with the rebound.

Heckingbottom’s men had, of course, fought back from an identical deficit at half-time against Bristol City last month.

But Wanderers are at the summit for a reason and there was never a chance of the champions-elect letting this one slip.

Leeds, with Pablo Hernandez brought off the bench to provide some much-needed artistry on the ball, did offer more in attack after the restart.

There were a few strangled cries for a penalty when Pierre-Michel Lasogga went down under a challenge from Conor Coady early in the second half.

Referee Tim Robinson, however, wasn’t interested. Later, Berardi fired a 25-yard shot narrowly wide, while John Ruddy was relieved to drop on the ball a yard in front of his line after Stuart Dallas had met a deep cross from the right flank.

But if there was going to be a third goal of the night, Wolves always looked the more likely to do the honours.

Jota was unfortunate to see his thumping drive crash back off the bar with Peacock-Farrell beaten.

Bonatini, after having a header cleared off the line, also looked to have sprung the offside trap only to be crowded.

Benik Afobe, once a Huddersfield Town loanee, was played clear by an exquisite pass from Jota. Peacock-Farrell raced out of his area, meaning the Leeds goalkeeper was caught in no-man’s land as Afobe lifted the ball over him and into the empty net.

Leeds United: Peacock-Farrell; Berardi, Jansson, Cooper (Pennington 36), Anita; Forshaw, Phillips; Sacko (Hernandez 46), Saiz, Dallas; Lasogga (Ekuban 72). Unused substitutes: Wiedwald, Alioski, O’Kane, Vieira.

Wolverhampton Wanderers: Ruddy; Batth, Coady, Boly; Doherty, N’Diaye, Saiss, Douglas; Cavaleiro (Gibbs-White 85), Bonatini (Afobe 70), Jota (Costa 75). Unused substitutes: Norris, Bennett, Miranda, Hause.

Referee: T Robinson (West Sussex).