Tom Griffin / @TomGriff87
There were reasons to be optimistic heading into this one about City’s chances of repeating their tactically exquisite display in West Yorkshire last season. Coming off the back of a somewhat relieving victory against Stoke, the Tigers were in free flow going forward. An attacking exuberance requisite against a side who boast 10 goals leaked in 20 Championship outings.
City battled. Fought. Harried, but just couldn’t break through Leeds resistance. A closely-knit contest had 0-0 written all over it, until Leeds turned the screw with half an hour left. A Jordy De Wijs own goal with 20 minutes to go allowed Leeds to switch on their combative swagger, and they added a second minutes from time to seal a dogged victory. One that didn’t arrive easily for the home side.
McCann opted with the same starting XI as last time out; a 4-5-1 system with Batty the more advancing of the two central midfielders (Lopes), Irvine operated higher in the left channel with Grosicki hugging the touchline on his heels ready to pounce on the counter. Tom Eaves was on his tod upfront; tasked to hold up the ball and bring his team mates into the action, to which he delivered to a fine art.
Whilst Leeds manager Bielsa tactically adapted to threat of our wingers by switching from three at the back to a four-man defence with Kalvin Phillips returning as their only change. The importance of the full back roles were crucial in this one, Gaetano Berardi defended wilfully against Bowen for the 90 and Callum Elder had an undecided battle against Helder Costa in a fiery contest.
In the early stages, City made a vibrant start, playing through the Whites press to good effect and landing the first attempt of the contest; birthday boy Dan Batty had a dangerous strike blocked, whilst Jarrod Bowen dragged an effort wide of the target after swiftly moving into open grass in-field.
Depicted by the Leeds fans as the ‘s*** Andy Carroll’ target man Tom Eaves arguably had his best game in a City shirt. He was tagged with the responsibility of gathering possession, shielding the ball and off-loading to his team mates, a brief he filled well. He could have opened the scoring in the 24th minute, Kamil Grosicki’s floated delivery met the nut of Eaves but he could only find the side netting.
Leeds did regather some of their missing swagger on the 30 minute mark, Geatano Berardi found the side netting from a Pablo Hernandez corner, whilst Patrick Bamford placed his deft touch agonisingly wide of the target for Leeds after impressive work from the effervescent Kalvin Phillips striding forward.
After Leeds had found their rhythm that deceived them early on, Hull continued to hold strong in their low block, soaking up any pressure that was dealt in the wide areas; Eric Lichaj and Callum Elder both stuck to their defensive tasks superbly. City’s work to frustrate, break-down and lock-down Leeds was epitomised minutes from the interval when Pablo Hernandez curled over from yards outside of the penalty area.
In stark contrast to last weeks half-time bollocking, I’m sure McCann was full of praise for his side at the interval and sensed that defending resolutely in a compact structure would eventually present his side with a guilt-edged opening at the other end. This opening did appear on the hour mark, Jarrod Bowen blitzed through the Leeds defensive third with nonchalant footwork and threaded through Eaves, the angle seemed to close but his left footed toe poke forced Casilla into action. This was the games first shot on target, perhaps kicking Leeds into gear after beginning the half in a leisurely fashion.
This didn’t prove to be the case, Leeds became frustrated whilst City were assured in possession. Leo Da Silva Lopes was doing the macarena with the opposition at times, his silky footwork danced him away from the opposition presence and he continued to keep the midfield ticking over with short passes. Dan Batty ahead of him looked assured in his role of connecting the midfield to the attack and delivered a couple tantalising crosses, whilst Jackson Irvine endured a rather quiet affair along with an off-colour Kamil Grosicki.
Leeds did eventually look threatening once again, on 63 half of Elland Road thought they’d broken the Hull resistance, Costa was unmarked in the area to tap in a tasty Harrison cross, but the winger was adjudged to have been in an offside position when receiving Hernandez’s pass. This was to the amusement of 1,500 City fans packed into the away end who taunted the Whites with ironic cheers after a lid had been lifted on celebrations.
With the contest still in the balance, it was developing into a frantic, end-to-end contest. Ben White blocked a Tom Eaves strike after Lopes intercepted artfully – the visitors continued to enjoy more possession in the opposition third through the instrumental Dan Batty.
Bamford then did well down the right to carve out an opportunity for Jack Harrison in the area, but his goal-bound effort was blocked heroically by Jordy De Wijs.
Our Dutch supreme then turned from hero to villain in a matter of moments when the deadlock was finally broken. Costa made in-roads down the right and fashioned a crossing position on the rare occasion, De Wijs slid in an attempt to intercept but he could only divert the ball beyond a hapless George Long. A goal against the run of play, a bitter pill to swallow for the Tigers after resolutely sticking to the game plan and frustrating their opposition for the majority.
This goal didn’t dampen the spirits and we went in search of an equaliser, a relaxing piece of play from Leo Lopes freed Irvine, he had options in the wide areas but blazed his left footed attempt over.
The games deciding moment occurred shortly after minutes from time, Grosicki’s inch-perfect corner found the rising ‘jungle cat’ Tom Eaves who powered a header goalwards but Casilla brought out the acrobatics to deny City a deserved equaliser. Casilla then launched an immediate counter attack, one that had shades of their winner against Reading. Bamford’s lung-bursting run was picked out by Hernandez in the area, he could only strike the post with his effort. Alioski then made sure on the rebound with Long out cold on the floor after Bamford collided with the keeper somewhat suspiciously.
The scoreline finished 2-0, but City applied themselves well against a promotion performing side in Leeds. This was, no doubt, a performance that McCann would have been proud of and City executed their low block excellently for the most part. Perhaps it wouldn’t be foolish of me to suggest that luck deceived us on a night where Leeds had the rub of the green and telling quality to make the difference. Performances against Leeds and West Brom won’t be deciding factor in our season, but results against those around and below us will define our play off ambitions.