Leeds United take pride but defeat as Manchester United's visit lives up to the hype

Often when matches are hyped up as much as Leeds United's against Manchester United, you worry they will not live up to expectations. The first Premier League meeting between the Roses rivals in front of fans for 19 years did so and then some.

It was little consolation for a Leeds team beating 4-2 by the team they hate losing to more than any other.

If there was consolation to be had, it was that the Red Devils were on edge until the 89th minute.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Halfway through a pulsating match at Elland Road, Leeds looked beaten. They were 2-0 down, their holding midfielder had gone off with concussion and an apparent administrative error meant they did not even get an extra substitute for it. The incessant rain over West Yorkshire all day was making the pitch a lottery.

DISAPPOINTMENT: Luke Ayling at full-timeDISAPPOINTMENT: Luke Ayling at full-time
DISAPPOINTMENT: Luke Ayling at full-time

But they do not lack spirit and two goals in 24 seconds made this anyone's game.

In the 85th minute Manchester United took off their only centre-forward to throw on a third centre-back because they knew that even at 3-2, the game was not won.

Only when Anthony Elanga calmly scored a fourth in the 89th minute could the visitors breathe easily. Or at all probably.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Leeds fans said it all at full-time when they sang, "We're Leeds and we're proud of you."

They were beaten but not dishonoured.

It had not been the purest of football matches but this rivalry is more about passion than prettiness, and there was plenty of that on show.

It all started so promisingly for Leeds, reacting much the better to the hostile atmosphere their fans created, letting the visitors know exactly what was coming their way as they booed them onto their warm-up seconds after the huge roar which greeted Leeds's.

Flares billowed from opposite corners of the ground as the players came out a second time for the real thing.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Merseysider Adam Forshaw was hungry in the tackle, Mateusz Klich dropping deep to spray passes which often lacked the right final touch at the other end. When Klich beat Aaron Wan-Bissaka in a 50-50 and Bruno Fernandes called for treatment after hurdling a full-blooded but perfectly fair Pascal Struijk tackle, you wondered if a visiting side whose mentality often gets questioned had the heart for the battle.

When Leeds dropped Raphinha to the bench, it gave the teamsheet a slightly negative look but there was nothing of the sort on the pitch.

Jack Harrison half-volleyed over after Klich followed up his tackle with a great ball to pick him out.

But the Red Devils did get their head around the challenge facing them and in the 10th minute Paul Pogba, such a thorn in Leeds's side in the reverse fixture, easily past Forshaw and Illan Meslier needed two efforts to hold Fernandes's shot.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

At the other end, David De Gea had to turn away a Forshaw shot, whilst Stuart Dallas defended brilliantly to stop Scott McTominay getting on the end of a Fernandes pass.

McTominay's barge into Robin Koch after 14 minutes did not exactly look innocuous, but nowhere near as serious as it turned out to be. Koch had to have his head bandaged and his blood-stained shirt and shorts changed but was wrongly allowed to carry on. A secondary blow to a concussed player can be fatal but the laws of the game do not allow the temporary substitutes which allow for proper assessments.

The German made the decision himself, sitting on the turf 14 minutes later.

Rather than getting a substitute on straight away, Leeds's brain trust had a lengthy discussion as to what to do next and made a complicated rearrangement, Junior Firpo coming on at left-back, Dallas moving to the right as Luke Ayling went to central defence, Diego Llorente shifting across one and Struijk going into holding midfield.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Adding insult to injury, Firpo was not classed as a concussion substitute apparently because Leeds only asked after making the change - not, disgracefully, that any of the paying punters in the stands knew unless they were texted by friends watching on television.

As the mud-splattered Whites got their heads around the reshuffle, Manchester United grasped the game and the lead.

Minutes earlier Meslier needed to make an excellent save when Cristiano Ronaldo appeared to have been served up a tap in. His first save after the substitution turned a Fernandes shot behind and from Manchester United's 140th corner of the season, they scored their first goal. It was the ninth the Whites had conceded from a flag kick in 2021-22.

If video assistant referees dealt with the things football fans cared about, Harry Maguire's goal might have been ruled out for the way he held down Llorente but perhaps the view was that it was six of one, half a dozen of the other.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Just before the interval the Red Devils added a second, Fernandes heading in to round off a counter-attack which saw Jadon Sancho cross.

Marcelo Bielsa threw Joe Gelhardt and Raphinha into the fray and Elland Road was in raptures when their team scored twice in 24 seconds.

First Rodrigo hit a cross from the left which cleared David de Gea to find the net, then Forshaw robed Fernandes and fed Dan James to deliver a ball from that side which Raphinha tapped in.

The inevitability of the cacophony made it no less deafening.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

From there, for half an hour, the game could have been anyone's.

De Gea had to get down low to a Gelhardt shot after Forshaw slashed through, and Dallas did brilliantly to block a Sancho shot. James could not get enough on a Firpo cross.

Even when Sancho fed Fred, in his first involvement as Pogba's replacement, and the Brazilian beat Meslier at his near post, it was not over.

Anthony Elanga appeared to be hit by an object from the home fans, whilst a red flare came onto the pitch from the away section. Flares, unfortunately, are back in fashion.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Elanga and Dallas exchanged shots which were more like backpasses.

Conditions so wet Bielsa needed a towel on his bucket became increasingly difficult to master and the torrent of yellow cards made little consideration of that until McTominay followed his booking with a foul on Firpo. Amazingly, it was Raphinha cautioned, for dissent. It was not the last foul McTominay made.

De Gea tipped over a Klich long-ranger and Rodrigo shot wildly before Fernandes flicked the ball around Struijk and Elanga finished with remarkable clam

The game spilled over in stoppage time as Firpo's foul on Elanga produced a melee Ralf Ragnick came onto the pitch to calm down.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

This was not a beautiful masterclass of football, it was an exhibition of what makes it so thrilling in this country in particular.

Leeds United: Meslier; Ayling, Llorente (Gelhardt 46), Struijk, Dallas; Koch (Firpo 31; James, Klich, Forshaw, Harrison (Raphinha 46); Rodrigo.

Unused substitutes: Roberts, Klaesson, Bate, Cresswell, Shackleton, Kenneh.

Manchester United: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; Pogba (Fred 67), McTominay; Lingard (Elanga 67), Fernandes, Sancho; Ronaldo (Varane 85).

Unused substitutes: Mata, Rashford, Dalot, Henderson, Telles, Matic.

Referee: P Tierney (Wigan).