LEEDS UNITED head coach Marcelo Bielsa made a strong case for his defence despite seeing his Championship leaders outscored at New Year’s Day hosts Nottingham Forest.
Leeds fell to back-to-back defeats for the first time under Bielsa as a Jack Colback double together with strikes from Daryl Murphy and Ben Osborn took United’s concessions to 10 goals in their last four games.
The Whites had previously shipped in just 18 goals in their first 22 games under Bielsa with Leeds crucially conceding two more from set pieces at the City Ground.
Already trailing to Colback’s fifth-minute opener after a poor back-pass from Adam Forshaw, Leeds were then dealt a huge blow when Kalvin Phillips was shown a straight red card three minutes before the break for a late lunge on Forest’s Adlene Guedioura.
Yet after the introduction of Jack Clarke at the half-time interval, United defied their numerical disadvantage as Clarke first hammered home a 52nd-minute leveller following a Mateusz Klich through ball.
Twelve minutes later, Gjanni Alioski volleyed home after Pontus Jansson had sent a Pablo Hernandez delivery back across goal.
We don’t have any problem in defence because if you take out the goals that were scored on set pieces, apart from the goals on set pieces we are the team that concedes the least goals in actions.Marcelo Bielsa
But the flip side to United’s ambition was a vulnerability at the back and Colback drew matters level when powering home a low drive from a 72nd-minute corner.
Murphy’s header from another corner then beat Bailey Peacock-Farrell just three minutes later and United were undone for a fourth time when substitute Osborn cut inside Forshaw before sending a rasping effort into the top right corner.
Results elsewhere allowed United to maintain their position at the top of the table with Leeds two points clear of Norwich City, held 1-1 at Brentford.
West Brom also fell to a 2-1 loss at Blackburn Rovers with the Baggies dropping to fourth behind Sheffield United who won 3-0 at Wigan Athletic. The Blades are now four points behind Leeds.
Bielsa admitted that suffering back-to-back losses for the first time this season “of course” left him concerned but insisted there were no problems in defence whilst admitting his side were clearly missing injured defensive duo Liam Cooper and Gaetano Berardi.
Bielsa reasoned: “We don’t have any problem in defence because if you take out the goals that were scored on set pieces, apart from the goals on set pieces we are the team that concedes the least goals in actions.
“But obviously set pieces are part of the defensive actions and we can’t hide the fact that we are lacking good headers like Berardi and Cooper and even if in the last game we made some corrections in that sense the solutions we found are not final solutions.
“But I don’t think we can solve this problem with a new player.”
The game also featured two big refereeing decisions with Forest extremely fortunate to see Jack Robinson shown only a yellow card for scything down Jack Harrison as the last defender in the 14th minute.
But referee Darren England then had no hesitation in reaching for red when Phillips flew into Guedioura just before the break.
The Whites centre-back took to social media after the game, saying: “I apologise to my team mates and our amazing travelling fans for my red card. I mistimed my tackle, I accept responsibility and I will make up for my mistake.”
Nottingham Forest: Pantilimon, Darikwa, Hefele (Guedioura 5), Fox, Robinson, Yacob, Colback, Cash, Carvalho, Lolley (Osborn 65), Murphy (Appiah 89). Unused substitutes: Steele, Janko, Yates, Dias.
Leeds United: Peacock-Farrell, Ayling, Jansson, Phillips, Douglas (Roberts 78), Forshaw, Alioski, Klich, Hernandez, Harrison (Clarke 45), Roofe. Unused substitutes: Huffer, Halme, Davis, Shackleton, Baker.
Referee: D England (South Yorkshre).