Javi Gracia finds it difficult to explain Leeds United's embarrassing surrender against Crystal Palace
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Leeds United looked on course for a second successive home victory that could have taken them clear of the relegation zone with a brilliant start and a lead given them by Patrick Bamford's header.
In fact they could and should have been at least three up against Crystal Palace in the first 20 minutes after a start that saw the Whites play their best football since Gracia took over.
But as the song goes Leeds simply fell apart once the visitors equalised and the whole team lost their way to be completely embarrassed long before the end of their ultimately truly forgettable 5-1 defeat.
The defending was atrocious, the midfield got lost and the forwards, starved of any good ball, also struggled to do the basics right in the end. Leeds went from eight shots on target in the first half to no shots of any kind in the second.
In the process United missed a huge chance to take a giant stride towards safety and took a hit to their goal difference that could prove crucial come the end of the season.
Quite how Gracia lifts the players back up for the third in the three successive home games against Liverpool next Monday is anyone's guess and he could not put his finger on what went so spectacularly wrong.
“I cannot explain because I think we played a very good first half,” he said.
"It's true that conceding the goal before half-time changed a little bit the game, but in that half-time we tried to improve the things that in the first half we didn't do well and to keep doing the things we did really well, because we were solid defending, we were in good distances, being compact, creating chances, many shots on target.
“The feeling was good. It was our moment, it was the moment when we could kill the game. After that the second half was very tough, we were conceding goals, we were not so aggressive, we were soft in many actions.
"In the first half we didn't defend corner kicks well. The same way we created some chances from set pieces.
“That was the key, we didn't take our chances, we conceded that goal and that was what I tried to explain to the players, we needed to improve for the second half. But then everything was worse.”
Gracia warned that lessons would have to be learned quickly from the game if Leeds are to stay up.
He added: “I think the team has competed really well in all the games, winning, losing, drawing, The most part of them we deserve the result we got or maybe even better. Today the first half was very good and we deserved something more, but in the second we didn't keep the level.
“We didn't keep the same level than all the games before then.
“We have to learn something from today. We have to learn that when we are playing together, we're giving 100 per cent and we're able to beat anyone. If we don't do it we know what can happen.
“We have to be really disappointed, all of us. That is something we have to feel.
“We try to learn something, to train, to work, to prepare for the next game and after that, the same way we forgot our win against Forest, we'll do it in the next week.”
Gracia certainly had his players pumped up for a fast start and they almost took the lead in the second minute as Luis Sinisterra found himself free at the far post to flash a shot inches wide.
Brenden Aaronson came even closer in the fifth minute with a near post flick from Junior Firpo's low cross was that was only kept out by the first of a string of fine saves by Palace's former England goalkeeper Sam Johnstone.
The attack was continued as Luke Ayling's cross-shot was beaten away by Johnstone and Sinisterra's shot from the outside the box also forced a save from the keeper.
A minute later Bamford raced onto Sinisterra's pass only to shoot wide from outside the area.
The fast, flowing football continued with Sinisterra meeting Aaronson's cross only to fail to get enough power behind his header.
From Ayling's smart low ball in Sinisterra attempted a diving header, but could not get good enough contact with the ball deflected straight to Johnstone.
The goal United had so threatened finally arrived in the 21st minute as Bamford got free to meet Aaronson's corner and floated a header into the net off the far post.
It should have been the cue for a winning afternoon, but it had the opposite affect. Palace finally got a foothold in the game and from their first attack they sent out a warning as indecisive home defending allowed Jeffrey Schlupp to meet a corner and hit the post from no more than four yards out.
Palace's first half man of the match, however, was Johnstone, and he produced an excellent save low down to keep out Jack Harrison's well struck free-kick from just outside the box.
A more comfortable save followed from Robin Koch's header from the resulting corner.
Another corner at the other end brought another chance with Jordan Ayew sending a header just wide.
Leeds still appeared largely in control, however, and thought they had scored again when Pascal Struijk sent in a header from Aaronson's free-kick that looked destined to nestle in the same corner of the net Bamford had put the ball earlier. But Johnstone flung himself to his right to make an outstanding full stretch save.
How crucial this was came in first half injury-time when Schlupp headed on a softly awarded free-kick for the visitors and Marc Guehi reacted quickest to poke the ball past home keeper Illan Meslier who had been a bit slow to come off his line.
Had Meslier been stronger or braver he might have won a free-kick as the Palace defender's boot was high, but there was no contact with the keeper and a close offside also decision went the Londoners' way to make it 1-1 at the break.
It was going to be a tougher second half as a game that appeared to be in United's grasp had to be won again, but no-one could predict the rout about to unfold.
The hosts were simply not at races as two goals in three minutes left them with a mountain to climb. The first was statuesque defenders allowing Ayew the chance to head home and the second saw Marc Roca fail to run back with Eberechi Eze to allow the attacking midfielder the freedom to race onto Michael Olise's through ball for an easy finish.
Gracia threw on three substitutes, but did not take off any of the biggest culprits in this sudden collapse and things got worse not better.
Odsonne Edouard was the next to be played in and beat Meslier with an angled finish for 4-1 after a swift Palace break.
Ayew was then left the freedom of Elland Road to make it 5-1 from close range in the most embarrassing of all the goals and it was the cue for thousands to leave the ground.
They made the right decision with no sign of any comeback in a pathetic surrender from a Leeds team who will be relegated with many more performances like this.
Leeds United 1
Crystal Palace 5
(Guehi 45+1, Ayew 53, 77, Eze 56, Edouard 70)
Sunday, April 9, 2023
Leeds: Meslier; Ayling, Koch, Struijk, Firpo (Kristensen 60); Roca, McKennie; Harrison, Sinisterra (Gnonto 60); Aaronson (Rodrigo 60); Bamford (Rutter 79).
Palace: Johnstone; Ward (Clyne 86), Andersen, Guehi, Mitchell; Doucoure (Milivojevic 80); Olise, Eze, Schlupp (McArthur 80), Ayew (Mateta 80); Edouard (Hughes 74).
Referee: Simon Hooper