Leeds United players came in for big praise from head coach Marcelo Bielsa after showing more defensive resolve in their hard earned 1-0 win over title challengers West Brom.
The Whites had been guilty of throwing points away in several home games this season, but although they came under pressure from the Baggies they saw the game out to keep a vital clean sheet and went back to the top of the Championship.
“It was a big, big effort from the team,” said Bielsa.
“Always we tried to manage the match but at the end of the match the creative play of West Brom, it was very difficult for us to defend.
“We put all our energy into defence and it was difficult to then put energy into attack.
“The team in the last part of the match showed few mistakes in defence.
“The substitution of Berardi (for the injured Liam Cooper) was positive, Harrison and Costa have supported the two full-backs, it was difficult for West Brom to beat Phillips, White and Berardi. Klich, Bamford and Dallas they ran all the match.”
Bielsa blamed himself for having to substitute his substitute after Tyler Roberts came on for the injured Jamie Shackleton at half-time only to be taken off after just 29 minutes.
With Shackleton’s energy in midfield missing, Leeds’ dominance in the middle evaporated and West Brom came on strong after the break, making it difficult for Roberts to get into the game in the number 10 role he was handed.
The Welsh international was sacrificed as Luke Ayling came on for his first game of the season at right-back and Stuart Dallas moved out of the back four to stiffen the midfield in the closing stages of the game.
Bielsa explained: “I was worried for the decision I had to take in the substitution of Tyler Roberts.
“For one player it is very hard that he has played 25 minutes and accept that he had to go off again.
“The change wasn’t for his performance because he had worked a lot.
“After 15 minutes the shape of the match turned and changed and I was forced to make a change and put on a more defensive player in the middle of the pitch.
“Who made a mistake was me, because I didn’t read well what was going to happen in the match.
“Klich defended less than Shackleton, Tyler Roberts defended less than Klich, what was needed was more energy in defence.
“I didn’t have a better option than this decision that I took. I thought that it was the only way to keep the match.
“The idea of Tyler on the pitch was to have more presence in attack and after the match forced him to defend more, he had less contact with the ball.”
The game did not follow the familiar pattern of total domination from United as they actually ended up with less possession than their opponents, but it did feature more missed opportunities that meant the Whites were forced to cling on in the closing stages.
They did edge the opening half and could have been ahead in the third minute when Mateusz Klich met Jack Harrison’s low cross, but saw his shot saved by keeper Sam Johnstone who was to go on to have a good game for West Brom.
Patrick Bamford also had a strong game for Leeds, but failed to end his run without a goal at Elland Road with his first miss coming as he headed over from the first corner of the match.
Loud appeals for a penalty fell on deaf ears when Stuart Dallas’s shot from the edge of the box was blocked by the arm of a defender who could not get out of the way after being close to the home player. West Brom broke swiftly from this and the move ended with Kiko Casilla brought into action for the first time, saving low down from Hal Robson-Kanu.
Another chance for United came and went as Bamford failed to connect with a great Kalvin Phillips free-kick and a follow-up effort was scrambled away for a corner. When that flag kick was not cleared Dallas shot wide from the edge of the area.
Leeds suffered a blow as they lost Cooper to injury, possibly as a result of an early foul on him by Robson-Kanu that earned the visiting striker a booking.
But they went in front in the 39th minute when Helder Costa and Shackleton set up Harrison initially and after the winger was crowded out he found Ezgjan Alioski in support. The left-back fired in a cross-shot and with Bamford ready to pounce the ball went in off former Leeds defender Kyle Bartley.
The lead should have been doubled in first half injury-time as Harrison set up Bamford, but the striker’s first time effort lacked power and was saved by Johnstone who then followed up with a better stop to keep out Costa from the rebound.
The second half saw West Brom look much more dangerous and they gave notice when Matheus Pereira fired the ball across the face of goal. He was then inches wide with a free-kick from the edge of the box.
Roberts fired a 25-yard shot wide for Leeds then Costa brought another good save out of Johnstone with a well struck shot from the edge of the area.
The visitors’ best chance fell to Pereira, but after he was found in space his shot was kept out by Casilla.
United were relying on breakaways for their attacks now, but one such move led to Harrison cutting in from his wing to fire a shot that looked destined for the top corner of the net only for Johnstone to fling himself to his left to make the save of the night.
Casilla made one more save at the other end after substitute Kenneth Zohore’s shot had looped up dangerously after getting a deflection.
West Brom exerted plenty of pressure late on, but Leeds saw time out to record a much needed victory.
Leeds United 1
West Bromwich Albion 0
Leeds: Casilla, Dallas, White, Cooper (Berardi 33), Alioski, Phillips, Shackleton (Roberts 45, Ayling 74), Costa, Klich, Harrison, Bamford.
West Brom: Johnstone, Furlong, Ajayi, Bartley, Ferguson, Livermore (Edwards 83), Sawyers, Phillips (Krovinovic 62), Pereira, Diangana, Robson-Kanu (Zohore 62).
Referee: David Coote