Leeds United beaten again as Whites are off-colour against Brighton and Hove Albion
The relief from the away bench at full-time only highlighted what a disappointing afternoon it was for the hosts. It was only Brighton's third win of the season, their first since November.
Weaving pretty patterns but seldom finishing them off, they and their open brand of football looked well set up to give Leeds a much-needed fillip after what Bielsa called the fifth-worst performance in their history but these were savvier Seagulls than usual. Rather than determined to prove a point, wounded Leeds were surprisingly lacklustre in the first half of their 1-0 defeat at home to Brighton.
They were better in the second period, but not by enough. This wass not the Leeds who have attracted so many plaudits this season.
Whereas his team was unrecognisably flat in the first half, Luke Ayling had a very up and down opening 45 minutes, but the frustration it bubbled into by the end showed where Leeds were.
A sweeping pass out to the left wing from the makeshift central defender produced the best attacking moment of the first period for the home side but when Ezgjan Ailoski drilled a cross in, Rodrigo was just unable to make contact with it.
Ayling then produced two magnificent pieces of defending – a diving header to clear a right-wing cross and throwing himself in front of Dan Burn to put the giant defender off as he tried to convert from a free-kick. The problem was that in the same period, he lost Neal Maupay for the only goal, and diverted a ball onto his own crossbar.
It was little surprise to see chief executive Angus Kinnear writing in the match programme about relaying the Elland Road pitch because it has become a pudding unappetising to passing sides of the quality of Leeds or Brighton for that matter but the hosts made light of it, going long to Burns in particular when he got forward from centre-back to inside-left to give them the option against Ayling, but willing and able to zip the ball over it on other occasions.
Their 18th-minute opener came that way, midfielder Ben White releasing Alexis Mac Allister and Leonardo Trossard for an excellent exchange of passes which resulted in the latter squaring for Maupay to tap past Kiko Csilla, selected for his first meaningful league match since his eight-match ban for racist abuse in place of the ill Illan Meslier.
. The centre-forward was in so much space you wondered if the video assistant referee might need to start drawing lines, but in fact he had just kept socially distant from Ayling throughout the move.
Maupay had been fortunate not to be booked when some earlier amateur dramatics with Ayling at his back failed to win a penalty. If we are to put up with VAR, we should not have to put up with diving.
Another unconverted cross from the left was all Leeds had to offer in the first half, Patrick Bamford swipe at fresh air.
Brighton had far more about them, a Trossard ball bouncing off Ayling onto the frame of the goal after 25 minutes.
As usual, sporting director Victor Orta's patience snapped first, imploring his players to “Come on Leeds!” but Ayling was not far behind. “Do something!” was probably the only printable part of his tirade to the players in front of him.
Getting that out of his system did no good because a minute later he was booked for a clumsy foul on Trossard near the touchline.
With Ayling less prominent for good or bad reasons, there was more perspiration for Leeds in the second half, but not enough inspiration.
It started more promisingly. When Mateusz Klick and Raphinha worked the ball to Bamford, the tackle on him teed up Jack Harrison to flash a shot wide from a tight angle.
Five minutes later Raphinha produced some great skill to get to the byline but his cross was headed away from Bamford by Burn. His next cross went behind everyone.
Leeds were dealing in nearly moments, Pascal Struijk's wonderful curling ball brilliantly kept away from Harrison by Solly March, Bamford glancing a chipped pass by one substitute, Pablo Hernandez, and another, Tyler Roberts, unable to get on the end of it
Brighton ought to have put them to bed in the 62nd minute but when Maupay pulled the ball back, Trossard blazed the chance over.
Casilla was seldom worked, saving from Adam Webster late on after spilling the initial effort.
A moment in the 88th-minute summed it up, Leeds in an unseemily goalmouth scramble prompted by Roberts's blocked shot.
The man it hit? Ayling. It was not his day, or Leeds's.
Leeds United: Casilla; Dallas, Ayling, Cooper, Alioski; Struijk; Harrison, Klich; Raphinha (Poveda 75), Rodrigo (Roberts 62); Bamford.
Unused substitutes: Llorente, Costa, Hernandez, Davis, Caprile, Shackleton, Jenkins.
Brighton and Hove Albion: Sanchez; Veltman, Webster, Dunk, Burn, March; White; Trossard (Tau 73), Gross, Mac Allister (Bissouma 62); Maupay (Propper 80).
Unused substitutes: Alzate, Zeqiri, Walton, Sanders, Jenks, Khadra.
Referee: K Friend (Leicestershire).
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