West Bromwich Albion 1 Leeds United 1: Championship leaders Leeds United hit back to bag a point against second-placed West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns

Patrick Bamford
Patrick Bamford
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CONSIDERED as the lock and safe-making capital of the United Kingdom, the Black Country offered Leeds United a tantalising chance to secure their automatic promotion credentials at a key juncture in their season.

At the highest ground in the country, opportunity also knocked for a similarly upwardly-mobile West Brom side to showcase their own lofty ambitions in a summit meeting where the incentive of moving 11 points clear of the team currently occupying third place was a significant one.

Eddie Nketiah

Eddie Nketiah

On paper, this promised to be a classic, fresh from those incredulous events at nearby Birmingham on Sunday for Leeds.

Absorbing in its own way it might have been, but it could not be defined as a thriller and it ended with an inconclusive result.

Certainly, this was an occasion that ex-Rotherham United defender Semi Ajayi will not forget after scoring at both ends of the pitch, with his own goal seven minutes after the interval cancelling out his early opener.

In the final analysis, it is Leeds who were entitled to be the more contented after dominating major parts of the game in open play, particularly in a second half which showed Marcelo Bielsa’s side at their fluid best.

West Brom take the lead through Semi Ajayi

West Brom take the lead through Semi Ajayi

The catalyst was undeniably the half-time introduction of Patrick Bamford, whose adept header was deflected in by the unwitting Ajayi to restore parity.

Having entered the fray for Eddie Nketiah – in his last game for the club with the loan striker saying his goodbyes to supporters after the final whistle ahead of returning to Arsenal – Bamford underlined his immense importance to the Leeds cause with a display of authority and class.

He and his team-mates strongly hinted at conjuring a late leveller, but in the end had to settle for one.

This was far from being the worst point in the world; quite the opposite – as Bielsa and Slaven Bilic may have cared to reflect upon when partaking in a friendly embrace at the final whistle, with the respect between the pair obvious.

Patrick Bamford

Patrick Bamford

The smart money will be on these two reconvening in the Premier League next season.

For Leeds, it was another display of character after those manic events at St Andrew’s.

Here, there was more order, even if the start was a ghastly one when Ajayi netted after poor Leeds defending from a corner in a soft concession which bore a resemblance to Birmingham.

Fortunately, Leeds’s response after an atrocious start was laudable as they dusted themselves down to control the tempo, although it was Albion who retained the punch and manufactured the chances in the final third in the opening half.

Happy enough for Leeds to control possession – the visitors had 67 per cent of it in the first period – Albion patiently picked their moments to inject some venom on the counter-attack.

It almost yielded a potentially defintive second goal ahead of the interval, with Casilla racing out to make a key block to thwart Matt Phillips, who had been sent clear by Hal-Robson-Kanu.

At the other end, Sam Johnstone had little to attend to in truth, aside from a routine save to grasp a volley from Helder Costa.

Leeds recycled the ball well enough and created elements of danger, but there was no real conviction.

Ajayi’s opener was charitable from a Leeds perspective as he stabbed the hosts in front, with Jack Harrison’s clearance coming after the ball had crossed the line with Leeds fitful in their efforts to clear Matheus Pereira’s corner.

The Albion talisman also went close later on in the half with a sweetly-struck free-kick, with Casilla beating away his effort.

Having seen enough, Bielsa introduced Bamford for Nketiah and it did not take long for the decision to reap a dividend with Bamford instinctively heading towards goal following a fine inswinging cross from Harrison, with effort sailing it the net following a deflection off Ajayi.

A deflected goal maybe, but it was still a quality moment from Leeds, who finally applied polish to compliment their possession.

Bamford soon stabbed the ball wide following a flowing move before Albion regrouped with a neat free-kick from Pereira testing the reactions of Casilla.

Leeds continued to look the more vibrant and energised and went close to a winner when Johnstone denied Bamford after probing play by midfielder Mateusz Klich.

At the other end, Casilla tipped over a strike from Kyle Edwards before time was called on New Year’s Day, a far cry from Leeds’s emotions in the Midlands on January 1 of last year after a painful 4-2 loss at Nottingham Forest.

West Brom: Johnstone; Furlong, Ajayi, Bartley, Gibbs (Townsend 17); Livermore, Sawyers, M Phillips (Zohore 84), Pereira, Krovinovic (Edwards 62); Robson-Kanu. Unused substitutes: Bond, Hegazi, Barry, Austin.

Leeds United: Casilla; Ayling, Cooper, White, Alioski (Douglas 45), K Phillips; Costa, Dallas, Klich, Harrison; Nketiah (Bamford 45). Unused substitutes: Meslier, Casey, Berardi, Gotts, Stevens.

Referee: R Jones (Merseyside).