Groundhog Day for Leeds United as they are floored by sucker-punch

Miss: Eddie Nketiah heads into the side-netting after Freddie Woodman comes out to challenge.' Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Miss: Eddie Nketiah heads into the side-netting after Freddie Woodman comes out to challenge.' Picture: Bruce Rollinson
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WORLD featherweight champion and avid Leeds United supporter Josh Warrington may have been pitch-side at half-time on Saturday, but thoughts turned to the late, great Muhammad Ali by the final whistle.

The man widely acknowledged as ‘The Greatest’ luxuriated in the fact he ‘could float like a butterfly and sting like a bee’, while his ‘rope-a-dope’ strategy in the Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman in October, 1974 also contributed to one of the boxing’s most famous moments.

Winner: Swansea City's Wayne Routledge celebrates.

Winner: Swansea City's Wayne Routledge celebrates.

On Saturday, Leeds floated like a butterfly between both boxes, but, unfortunately, stung like one in the final third.

For their part, Swansea soaked up the pressure and covered up on the ropes before substitute Wayne Routledge applied the late sucker punch, just as Ali did all those years ago in Kinshasa.

It is the Swans who boast a two-point lead heading into the first international break and not Leeds, who have only themselves to blame.

After the draw against Nottingham Forest three weeks earlier – when Leeds similarly governed play but did not take ownership of the result – and other episodes of frustration at Elland Road over the past year, this had the unmistakable whiff of Groundhog Day.

Summing up a sore afternoon, Stuart Dallas, a strong outlet down the right for the hosts, said: “Again, it is one of those games where we did not punish them and we were punished at the end.

“It is disappointing especially going into the international break. It is going to be a long couple of weeks now.

“I think we attacked well with good link-up play and we were just lacking that final touch.

“We are disappointed, it is a game we could have won and should have won and we go away with nothing.”

The statistics show that Leeds boasted a healthy 62 per cent of possession and mustered 21 attempts on goal on Saturday.

In these increasingly figure-driven times, the data also displayed that the hosts managed just three efforts on target, with United’s goals-to-chances ratio continuing to be a source of immense vexation and irritation – just as it was last season in the final analysis.

Back in 2018-19, Marcelo Bielsa’s easy-on-the-eye side boasted the most possession in the Championship and the most shots per game and were the second best in terms of completed passes.

Yet the big prize did not arrive.

The similarities with the weekend’s events and home games last term against the likes of Sheffield United, Wigan Athletic and Birmingham City were clear to see.

The only number that truly mattered on Saturday arrived when Routledge saw his scruffy effort creep past Kiko Casilla in the 90th minute – it was the Swans’ second effort on target.

The visitors may have taken a statistical beating and been on the back foot for the most part, but it did not stop head coach Steve Cooper from making a double attacking change just after the hour mark when eventual match-winner Routledge and Sam Surridge entered the fray.

By interpretation, it conveyed that he thought it was a game well within Swansea’s remit to win, aided by Leeds’s lack of ruthlessness in front of goal.

The malaise even afflicted substitute Eddie Nketiah – viewed as something akin to the saviour when he came on for the misfiring Patrick Bamford – with two opportunities going begging.

The tone was set early on in a game when Leeds manufactured a plethora of promising situations down both flanks and stretched Swansea defensively, but lacked conviction, sharpness, accuracy and nerve in the business zone.

Gianni Alioski showed scant composure in blazing way into the South Stand from an excellent position and it was a sign of things to come.

After a hooked half-volley from the same player was gathered comfortably by Freddie Woodman, fine marauding by Dallas ended in a succulent right-wing cross right onto the head of Bamford, but he failed to readjust quickly enough and instead of guiding his header across goal to the far corner, his poor effort was well off beam to the right of goal.

Two more chances, albeit with a greater degree of difficulty were put wide by Bamford, with Adam Forshaw also culpable in firing over when well positioned.

All told, United’s most threatening first-half moment arrived from a defender just before the break when Liam Cooper’s header shuddered the crossbar.

The traffic continued to be mainly towards Swansea’s goal on the restart with Pablo Hernandez firing at Woodman before Nketiah replaced Bamford as the hosts pursued a breakthrough and, all the while, Swansea got a tad more brave going forward.

Nketiah was soon afforded a sight of goal before firing over under pressure, with Hernandez fizzling a shot into the Kop before erring in front of goal, with Connor Roberts making a fine follow-up block to thwart Jack Harrison.

Swansea started to conjure one or two good situations and would have been further emboldened by Hernandez being off radar again after excellence from substitute Helder Costa and Nketiah nodding into the side-netting.

The sting then arrived when a corner was not cleared and Matt Grimes’s cross found Routledge, whose low shot bobbled almost apologetically past Casilla as Swansea secured their first win in Leeds in almost 70 years.

A self-examining figure, Bielsa will have ample time for introspection over the next fortnight and the attacking make-up of his next line-up at Barnsley on September 15 will be interesting.