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Monday, July 6, 2020

Leeds 1-1 Luton: Championship leaders stumble again

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The Amazon documentary makers returned to Elland Road and with it came a suspicion of stage fright among Marcelo Bielsa’s Championship leaders.

It was at this juncture last season, with seven games remaining and a 1-0 defeat at Birmingham, that the cameras captured the onset of a collapse that would see Leeds win just twice more and lose in a play-off semi-final to Derby.

The resulting television series – Take Us Home – was a little too polished and did not climax with the promotion for which they hoped. Plans for a second season were shelved.

But the production team are back and what they witnessed would have felt entirely familiar, an unconvincing performance at the business end of the campaign.

Stay At Home would perhaps be an apt title this time given the empty stands, not that supporters would have enjoyed this, save for the sight of Stuart Dallas rescuing the point that keeps them six clear of third.

The matchday programme carried a front cover of former captain Gordon Strachan lifting the First Division title 28 years ago. But the remainder of this season is not about lifting trophies for Leeds, it’s simply about elevation back to the top flight after 16 years away. Perhaps that explains the nerves.

Luton forward Callum McManaman strikes you as the fiery type who could start a scrap inside the proverbial empty house. Well, he nearly started one inside an empty stadium here, and that within 60 seconds of kick-off after he thundered through Jack Harrison at the expense of a yellow card.

Those on the touchline erupted in protest, the hosts in fury at the challenge, the visitors in contest of the booking. Only Luton coach Mick Harford – hitman and hardman of old – remained motionless on the bench, barring a shrug of indifference at the whole furore.

Come half-time that feeling of disinterest was the overriding emotion among every other observer inside Elland Road, for this had been a half low on incident and even lower on quality.

To wrap it up, Luton had a half-hearted appeal for a penalty rightly waved away and Tyler Roberts lashed narrowly over at the other end.

For all they see of the ball – 72 per cent possession after 45 minutes – Leeds really can have spells where they do little with it. Defender Luke Ayling’s commentary was informative, his frustration with the lack of movement in front of him audible to all. Insert your own joke about Leeds’ frontline and the cardboard cutouts in the stand behind the goal.

The interval brought confirmation that both Brentford and Fulham had won, narrowing the gap to third position to six points as it stood. Results elsewhere had also sent Luton bottom.

Pablo Hernandez was a half-time introduction against Fulham on Saturday and his wizardry was the difference in a 3-0 victory. Bielsea again chose to keep the 35-year-old next to him in the dugout during the first half and it was a surprise to all when he remained there entering the second.

And so it was that a change by opposite number Nathan Jones was to break the tedium and the deadlock. Harry Cornick, on at half-time, had barely touched the ball five minutes later when he was sent clear in the inside left channel. He looked a little rusty, too, as he checked his run, seemingly in search of back-up. He did not need it, instead digging out a right-footed curler that arched beyond the fingertips of Illan Meslier and into the far corner.

At least it served as a livener for the home side, who were only denied an equaliser when Luton goalkeeper Simon Sluga produced a fine double save to palm clear a Kalvin Phillips free-kick before blocking Ezgjan Alioski’s follow-up.

Belatedly, on the hour, on came Hernandez. Within three minutes Leeds were level. However, it was fellow sub Alioski the creator as Dallas swept home his pass from 12 yards.

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