Javi Gracia on why Leeds United 'deserved reward of three points' in eventful game at Wolves
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The Whites had to tough it out despite opening up a 3-0 lead just past the hour mark, but came home with a three-point haul that could prove crucial in their relegation fight.
The victory lifted United up from 19th to 14th in the Premier League table and showed again how tight it all is in the bottom half this season as the teams head into an international break to draw breath.
It will be an exciting run-in as well if there are many more games like this one at Molineux with Jack Harrison, Luke Ayling, Rasmus Kristensen – his first in a Leeds shirt – and Rodrigo all scoring and Wolves ending with 10 men after Jonny was red carded for a reckless challenge on Ayling that was initially dealt with by a yellow card before a VAR intervention.
"I think we got a very, very good win,” said Leeds boss Gracia.
"Our players in my opinion did an amazing game and they deserve the reward of three points because I think we showed a very good face.
"Robin (Koch) as usual played really well, but not only Robin, all the defensive line did very well. All the players starting and all the subs did really well and they deserved this recognition and the points.
“We were more clinical than other games, but at the same time defending we can do better, but the team made a very big effort to defend well.
"We are playing against a very good team. When I saw the bench I could see Adama (Traore), (Matheus) Cunha, (Matheus) Nunes, a lot of good players.
"They are well organised, all my respect for Julen (Lopetegui, manager) as well because I know how good he is and the technical staff. We knew before coming how tough it would be. I think we did a good job and got the points.”
Gracia believes the win can breed much needed confidence in his players.
He added: "It's good, the moment, we have time to enjoy the win and can prepare with more confidence in a good atmosphere.
"The good atmosphere we had, to be honest, with not so good results but with a good result it helps you to work with more confidence and more calm. My players now, some of them are going with national teams and before the game we spoke about it.
"We want to enjoy the next week, so we needed a good result. I want to thank all the supporters because we felt their support in all the game and it was really special for us.”
Gracia’s side got off to a dream start as they took the lead after just six minutes. Willy Gnonto went past a defender on the left and pulled the ball perfectly for the back to form Harrison to find the top corner with a good strike.
Wolves came close to replying quickly as Daniel Podence's low shot was well saved by Illan Meslier and Max Wober did well to block Pedro Neto’s follow up shot.
Wober came to the rescue again as he blocked Nelson Semedo’s well struck shot.
It was Wolves' turn to block a good effort when Weston McKennie – in for the injured Tyler Adams – saw his volley kept out.
The hosts were then fortunate not to go down to 10 men as Craig Dawson flew into a tackle and mistimed it, catching Harrison on the ankle. The United player was equally fortunate not to suffer a serious injury.
Leeds had further chances to increase their lead before the break, but Marc Roca, Patrick Bamford and Brenden Aaronson all sent efforts over.
It was 2-0 early in the second half, however, when a good routine from a corner worked perfectly with Ayling getting free in the box to head home.
Harrison came close to netting another with his shot blocked on the line and Marc Roca followed up with an effort that went just wide.
Wolves made changes to their team and Gracia responded by switching to a back three with Kristensen brought on and Gnonto unlucky to be taken off in the tactical move.
It had an unexpected result as less than 30 seconds after coming on Kristensen won the ball in the home box and showed great determination to power home a shot that went through keeper Jose Sa's legs.
At 3-0 it looked all over, but not so. Wolves pulled a goal back within three minutes when Meslier came out of his box to head the ball clear. He looked to have done so successfully, but Roca's wayward touch sent the ball to Jonny, who, quick as a flash, sent a long range volley over the Whites keeper into the net.
Only a good save by Meslier prevented Wolves from scoring again soon after when Raul Jimenez seemed certain to score from close range after Adama Traore had got in behind Junior Firpo.
But the warning was not taken and it was 3-2 as Matheus Cunha's shot from the edge of the box found the net after a wicked deflection off Wober.
More drama was to follow with Wolves down to 10 men following Jonny's bad tackle on Ayling. Referee Michael Salisbury produced a yellow card, but changed it to red after getting notification from VAR official David Coote.
In seven minutes of added time that was to turn into 10 Leeds did more than weather the storm as they broke out to make sure of the points.
Again there was some controversy before Crysencio Summerville sent Rodrigo free to score his first goal since returning from injury with a smart finish.
Traore had his shorts pulled by Roca then stopped when he could easily have played the ball. He subsequently lost out in a tackle with Summerville whose pass was gleefully snapped up by top scorer Rodrigo.
VAR checked the goal and Salisbury was called over to the monitor to have a look. He did not change his mind, Rodrigo's effort stood and the referee followed up with another red card for unused Wolves substitute Matheus Nunes, who was accused of making contact with an assistant referee.
It was all over bat the shouting now and the Whites had their massive three points.
Wolverhampton Wanderers 2
(Jonny 65, Cunha 73)
(Harrison 6, Ayling 50, Kristensen 62, Rodrigo 90+7)
Saturday, March 18, 2023
Wolves: Sa; Semedo (A Traore 57), Dawson (Collins 45), Kilman, Jonny (sent-off 84); Lemina, Neves (Moutinho 76), J Gomes, Neto (Sarabia 46), Podence (Cunha 57); Jimenez.
Leeds: Meslier; Ayling, Koch, Wober, Firpo (Struijk 81); McKennie, Roca; Harrison, Aaronson (Summerville 81), Gnonto (Kristensen 62); Bamford (Rodrigo 67).
Referee: Michael Salisbury.