‘Difficult to explain’ - how Leeds United were left bewildered by Cardiff City

Spot on: Patrick Bamford celebrates scoring his penalty. Picture: Simon Hulme
Spot on: Patrick Bamford celebrates scoring his penalty. Picture: Simon Hulme
Have your say

THE walls which crumbled in the north of England last week were not exclusively red.

Two days on from Labour’s ‘red wall’ being obliterated in Thursday’s general election, Leeds United were the ones picking up the pieces after their formidable white fortification was dismantled at a disbelieving Elland Road.

Defences win you titles was Sir Alex Ferguson’s regular refrain in his pomp with Manchester United and with Leeds’ number of clean sheets – 12 – surpassing the amount of league goals they had conceded this season ahead of Saturday’s game, it was increasingly hard to argue with that statement.

But, as with most things associated with Leeds over the past decade-and-a-half, nothing is ever likely to be too straightforward.

When life was practically perfect, the last thing that Leeds needed was Cardiff City.

The Whites’ nemesis were very much in a party mood at a venue where they have now lost just once in their last 12 visits.

Saturday’s game may have ended in a draw, but it had all the trappings of a win for the never-say-Dai crew from the Principality. Three-nil down after an hour, not a problem.

It provided an unwelcome reminder of some torrid episodes of yore at LS11 against the likes of Millwall, Nottingham Forest, Blackpool, Birmingham and Preston. Nikola Zigic, Paul Rachubka, Jon Parkin et al.

The emotions at the final whistle veered from apoplexy to bewilderment. But if one person was entitled to be angry, it was the mild-mannered Patrick Bamford.

He left the fray on 77 minutes to thunderous applause following his two-goal salvo. Leeds were winning 3-1, with no indication whatsoever about the madness which was to come.

A quarter-of-an-hour later and the hosts were on the floor, with home fans also lamenting another substitution which saw rookie defender Pascal Struijk come on for the experienced Gaetano Berardi six minutes from time.

In hindsight, it was perhaps the absence of another of United’s main lieutenants in captain Liam Cooper which was the most telling factor in the final analysis.

Cardiff’s late goals from Sean Morrison – sent off before the end after a heavy challenge on Eddie Nketiah – and Robert Glatzel were preventable concessions that owed everything to a lack of organisation, communication and collective panic.

In the process, it provided a salutary lesson, more especially to a figure who had previously been peerless in an immaculate season in Ben White.

On the incredulous late mayhem, head coach Marcelo Bielsa – speaking for many – said: “It’s difficult to explain.

“I do not think the substitutes had impact, good or bad. The resolution of the match was not related with the players. It was the characteristics of the players.

“Either of the players on or off, we could not draw this match.”

But draw Leeds did on a day when their display went from the sublime to the ridiculous.

The majesty arrived early in the piece. A quite wonderful opener from Helder Costa, aided by a pass-of-the-season contender from the ever-graceful Pablo Hernandez, provided the wonderment as Leeds broke with ferocity and brilliance from a Cardiff corner.

A clinical second from Bamford, who blasted home emphatically from Stuart Dallas’s assist, added to the sense of well-being as Leeds painted joyous pictures on the Elland Road canvas in an opening half-hour in which their artistry was high and their work-rate simply relentless.

Out-worked, out-thought, out-ran and, most of all, outclassed, there looked, for all the world, to be no way back for Cardiff, even accounting for the fun and frolics they had previously enjoyed against Leeds.

A soft penalty earned and converted by Bamford early in the second half – with contact looking minimal between himself and Neil Etheridge – added to the feeling of conviction that Leeds were going to end their barren sequence against Cardiff in handsome fashion.

A fine save by Etheridge to keep out Mateusz Klich’s delicious dink reinforced that feeling for the hosts – and then it began.

A sign of things to come arrived when Kiko Casilla injudiciously charged out of his area to punch clear a routine cross.

The attempt was meek and amid the consternation, Lee Tomlin netted with an exquisite lob, showcasing the mercurial talents of a player who has moments of magic in his locker.

Still, Leeds looked comfortable, even if Dallas had to be alert to clear a goalbound header from Morrison.

Unfortunately, the warning was not heeded with the untracked Morrison powerfully heading in following an excellent cross from Joe Bennett.

Devastatingly, the hosts then failed to clear the lines from Tomlin’s clever flick with substitute Glatzel seizing upon uncertainty from Struijk to steer the ball low past Casilla for a scarcely-believable equaliser and the softest of concessions against a Cardiff side recently reduced to 10 men.

There was still hope for Leeds, with thoughts turning to the stunning stoppage-time developments against Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers last Christmas.

It very nearly happened again with White bundling a rebound wide after Etheridge brilliantly kept out Eddie Nketiah’s point-blank header.

But this time, there was no reprise for Leeds, handed a spot of food for thought ahead of key appointments with Fulham and Preston.

It had to be Cardiff.