Stuart Dallas delivers timely intervention in Leeds United’s season

Stuart Dallas netted late equaliser for Leeds United.  Picture Bruce RollinsonStuart Dallas netted late equaliser for Leeds United.  Picture Bruce Rollinson
Stuart Dallas netted late equaliser for Leeds United. Picture Bruce Rollinson
ULTIMATELY, this proved an occasion when the famous ‘job done’ quote from former Preston North End manager Billy Davies sprang to mind.

That comment arrived after a 1-1 draw in a tense first-leg play-off semi-final between these Roses adversaries at Elland Road at the end of the 2005-06 season, with the abrasive Scot’s words coming back to haunt him.

They were seized upon with relish by Leeds United players, who triumphed in the second instalment at Deepdale to reach the showpiece in Cardiff.

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Here, a streetwise Preston side were entitled to contemplate the completion of a job on the hosts as the clock ticked down – and moving within six points of second-placed Leeds in the process.

But Leeds, on a night when they were by no means at their best, stole their thunder with an equaliser that may prove precious in the context of their season.

Regularly feted for their stylish and graceful football, Leeds instead relied upon rather more old-fashioned virtues of perseverance and character to keep the chasers at bay – a quality that every successful promotion aspirant must possess in their locker.

Fittingly, it was one of their solid citizens and unsung heroes in Stuart Dallas, who restored parity in the 89th minute, with this moment going down rather better with the relieved home faithful than the similarly dramatic strike from Cardiff City did in Leeds’s previous match at Elland Road; an incredulous 3-3 draw.

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This was not quite the stellar finale of Boxing Day 2018 – when Leeds produced a miraculous late rally against more Lancastrian visitors in Blackburn Rovers – but it was well received all the same in United’s last home game of the current decade.

Prior to Dallas’s strike, it had the makings of an unsatisfactory occasion, more especially in a poor first half which saw Preston deservedly lead.

Bedecked in a yellow and green change strip, elements of Preston’s showing resembled that of another side who traditionally play in those colours in Norwich City when they held court in their league fixture here in February.

Few sides have possessed as much smartness and capability since at Elland Road, certainly on the first-half evidence.

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The Lancastrians were helped along the way by an uncharacteristically sloppy display from the hosts, who coughed up possession with worrying regularity.

Leeds did improve as the half progressed and displayed a touch more conviction, but it was a half which was largely governed by the intelligent visitors.

A sign of things to come arrived early on when Kalvin Phillips dithered in possession, with Kiko Casilla injudiciously racing out of goal to challenge Sean Maguire.

The ball found its way to former Barnsley midfielder Brad Potts, with his low shot deflected just wide, with Casilla stranded out of his goal.

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It was a let-off for Leeds, but unfortunately the warning was not heeded.

Tom Barkhuisen soon saw his low shot held by Casilla after cashing in on slackness from Luke Ayling before Preston conjured a breakthrough that had been coming.

Ben Pearson broke up a Leeds foray with a well-executed challenge on the tardy Mateusz Kilch with North End breaking with energy and intent upfield with Barkhuisen slotting in the galloping Alan Browne, who steered the ball tidily past Casilla.

It was a sobering moment and the cue to agitation among home supporters, with United’s best moment arriving just before the half-hour with Gjanni Alioski’s daisycutter flew just wide.

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The onus was on Leeds to up it and ask a lot more questions on the resumption and thankfully, they did that and noticeably increased their intensity levels.

Concerted pressure culminated in Dallas’s cross-shot stinging the palms of Declan Rudd, as canny Preston strived to disrupt Leeds’s flow at regular junctures of a half notable for stoppages.

Change came when Bamford made way for Nketiah with Leeds soon going desperately close to a leveller on two occasions.

First, Alioski showed a distinct lack of composure to fire over of a gaping goal after Helder Costa did well close to the byline before a fine header from Nketiah was clawed away by Rudd.

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The impression that it might not be Leeds’s night was then confirmed when Alioski’s scorching low drive shuddered against the post, with the rebound falling to fall for a player in a white jersey.

Crucially, Leeds dug deep on their reservoirs of character with Rudd, who denied Alioski late on, powerless to prevent Dallas’s deflected drive, which hit Preston substitute Ryan Ledson, from flying past him.

Leeds United: Casilla; Ayling, White, Cooper, Alioski; Phillips, Klich, Dallas, Harrison, Costa; Bamford (Nketiah 64). Unused substitutes: Meslier, Douglas, Struijk, Berardi, Gotts, Stevens.

Preston NE: Rudd; Clarke, Huntington, Davies, Hughes; Pearson, Browne; Barkhuisen (Harrop 90), Potts, Nugent (Ledson 69); Maguire (Stockley 90). Unused substitutes: Ripley, Storey, Gallagher, Bodin.

Referee: D Bond (Lancashire).