Leeds United 2 Everton 2: Regal Raphinha comes to the party against Everton once more

AFTER 532 days, football came home to Elland Road - providing the sort of occasion that this venerated stadium was surely made for.

Raphinha pulls Leeds level for a second time with a beauty. Picture: Getty Images.

A proper football Saturday - we even had a 3pm Premier League kick-off - saw one of the most passionate fanbases in the business pack out LS11 for the first time since a derby victory over Huddersfield Town in March, 2020.

On an esteemed occasion, it was a proper game - certainly in the first half and in a rousing final twenty minutes - to match between two of the most famous clubs in the land.

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Leeds had lost their way in the opening spell in the second half and would trail 2-1. But just when they needed something special, a player who has displayed a penchant in excelling against Everton came to the party.

Raphinha netted in both games against the Toffees last term and his 72nd-minute curler to level it up at 2-2 was delicious.

It ensured a fair scoreline at the finale. Everton led thanks to a controversial penalty from Dominic Calvert-Lewin on the half hour, but Mateusz Klich levelled before the break with a lovely finish.

Demerai Gray would restore Everton’s advantage early in the second half, but they reckoned without Raphinha.

The stadium announcer said ‘welcome home’ to the returning Leeds hordes as a full-house Elland Road was bedecked in its finery once again.

An intriguing game - pitting two managerial greats in Marcelo Bielsa and Rafa Benitez - complimented a marvellous pre-match atmosphere, which saw Elland Road bedecked in a sea of yellow as home supporters waved flags which had been placed on their seats ahead of kick-off.

There was a spot of despair when Everton took the lead after Darren England awarded a spot-kick after deeming that home captain Liam Cooper had tugged the shirt of Calvert-Lewin when viewing the incident on a monitor at the side of the pitch.

Calvert-Lewin’s penalty was emphatic and sure, although his celebration was rather more misguided. Telling Leeds supporters to be quiet is never a good idea.

Leeds - who handed a full debut to Junior Firpo and restored Kalvin Phillips to their starting line-up, as expected - took their medicine and their man of the moment, with the ink still drying on his new deal in Patrick Bamford took responsibility and set up a deserved leveller on 40 minutes.

Luke Ayling’s long pass down the right was flicked on by Raphinha, with Bamford cashing in on a momentary misjudgment by Michael Keane to send Klich clear and his finish was true and what you would expect from a goalscoring central midfielder.

Leeds, with jet-fuelled support from the stands, started off with trademark intensity, although could not fashion out clear-cut chances with Everton’s defensive discipline being decent.

The hosts still looked the better side, although Demarai Gray possessed danger down the flanks in particular for the Blues.

A couple of blocks from Pascal Struijk - having a much better day than the previous Saturday - .were timely, but unfortunately Cooper was more off message in his indiscretion on Calvert-Lewin.

Leeds kept their heads and after Raphinha curled a shot wide, they had their merited leveller to set up a cracking second half.

Attacking the Kop should have been an appetising prospect for Leeds, but instead they produced an inhibited, unconvincing showing which was bang out of character early in the second period and it was Everton who seized the initiative with the hosts unable to get going.

A warning arrived when the impressive Gray set up Calvert-Lewin with Meslier denying him from point-blank range. It was not heeded and Leeds’s defence were again found wanting.

The Blues pushed forward with Abdoulaye Doucoure finding Gray on the left and his crisp, angled shot flew through the legs of Stuart Dallas before nestling in the far corner.

It could have got worse with Alex Iwobi cashing in on lame defending by Firpo to slot in Calvert-Lewin. Once again. Meslier excelled and made an important one-on-one save.

Bielsa saw the signs and threw on Tyler Roberts and Jamie Shackleton in a bid to wrestle back the initiative. But the inspiration at a key juncture would arrive from someone on the pitch from the off in Raphinha.

A couple of quick-fire corners hinted at a potential fightback. A third saw Leeds level it up, with Dallas’s nifty flick finding Roberts, whose cross was not cleared with Cooper teeing up Raphinha to curl in an absolute beauty.

Leeds sensed their moment but had another scare when the mercurial Richarlison was narrowly off target in an increasingly compelling second-half spectacle in which both defences did not cover themselves in glory.

Former Leeds loanee Andros Townsend fired straight at Meslier late on, while Doucoure’s low shot deflected just wide.

Leeds United: Meslier; Ayling, Struijk, Cooper, Firpo (Shackleton 60); Phillips; Raphinha, Dallas, Klich (Roberts 60), Harrison; Bamford. Substitutes unused: Forshaw, Klaesson, Helder Costa, Rodrigo, Summerville, Cresswell, Drameh.

Everton: Pickford; Coleman, Mina, Keane, Digne; Allan, Doucoure; Gray, Richarlison, Iwobi (Townsend 75); Calvert-Lewin (Kean 90). Substitutes unused: Kenny, Holgate, Delph, Begovic, Gbamin, Davies, Branthwaite.

Referee: Darren England (South Yorkshire).

Attendance: 36,293