Raphinha holds his nerve to give Leeds United 'necessary win'
Marcelo Bielsa admitted that Leeds United's victory over Crystal Palace was hugely significant.
Raphinha' injury-time penalty sealed all three points on what was looking to be another frustrating night for the Whites and the way the only goal of the game was greeted by the Elland Road crowd showed the importance of picking up all three points.
Leeds went into the game knowing they could have slipped into the bottom three if results this week had gone against them, but now they can look upwards again and for 24 hours at least they moved to within three points of Manchester United in eighth.
With some tough looking fixtures just round the corner there was a perceived need to win the Palace game so it was relief all round when they managed to do exactly that and no-one will remember that it was not an entirely convincing display.
“It was a victory that was very necessary,” said head coach Bielsa.
“The team fought the whole game, that is true, it’s necessary. Either way our team usually gives everything in every game.
“But, in that aspect the team was very similar to their game against Leicester. Always a victory brings happiness and in a human group happiness is indispensable.
“It was a relief, we could breathe again and it was very satisfying. The succession of games means we have another challenge once again.”
Bielsa was pleased with the intensity of his team and they looked to have initially shrugged off the disappointing display at Brighton as they tore into Palace early on.
Dan James, who went on to have one of his best games in a Leeds shirt, had two shots blocked in the first five minutes after looking dangerous back in his left wing position.
The other winger, Raphinha, was next to try his luck with a shot just outside the box only for the ball to be defected over.
A great one-two with Raphinha saw Stuart Dallas then get in behind the visitors down their left, but his driven cross just eluded the forwards and was well cleared by Joel Ward.
Adam Forshaw went close with a 20-yard shot before Palace managed their first threat with Jordan Ayew tangling with Pascal Struijk in the area only for his penalty shout to fall on deaf ears.
After a tough start the visitors worked their way into the game and Jeffrey Schlupp was only inches wide with a shot from the edge of the box.
At the other end Kalvin Phillips won the ball brilliantly in the Palace half and strode forward before sending a shot wide.
But the rest of the first half drifted aimlessly with far too many free-kicks making rhythm impossible and Palace breaking up play with easy falls to the ground that began to get the blood boiling of frustrated home fans.
Bielsa responded with two half-time substitutions, Junior Firpo on for the injured Struijk and Rodrigo taking the place of the ineffective Mateusz Klich.
After enduring a difficult time at Brighton, left-back Firpo made a hesitant start, several errors and was booked within two minutes of coming on. But he gradually got over his apparent nerves and went on to contribute to an improved effort from United in the second half, getting forward well.
Leeds had a great chance to break the deadlock in the 54th minute when James' smart low ball in was met by Rodrigo, but the Spanish forward shot wide from about six yards out.
The first shot on target followed from Forshaw, but it was a comfortable save for keeper Vicente Guaita.
Forshaw sent another shot over after United had won the ball high up the pitch, but the visitors continued to defend well.
The game opened up in the last 20 minutes and Palace could have nicked in when sub Christian Benteke met Wilfried Zaha's cross only to head wide with the goal gaping.
Rodrigo saw two efforts deflected wide from back to back corners aimed at him at the near post before the visitors could have scored again as Benteke's prod towards goal was deflected and only just grabbed on the line by Illan Meslier.
The Whites never stopped trying, however, and Tyler Roberts' curling shot from the edge of the box was saved by Guaita.
Leeds pushed forward as the game entered stoppage time and from a corner Marc Guehi challenged Liam Cooper for the ball, but had his arm in the air.
The ball hit it and although referee Kevin Friend did not see this home players quickly surrounded him before VAR ref Simon Hooper got involved. It had been a clear and obvious error from the official on the pitch, who had not been impressive all night, and after being prompted to have a look at the pitchside monitor he pointed to the spot.
The nerves were jangling now, but did not show on Raphinha, who put away the penalty to probably the loudest cheer of the season so far. It had been touch and go, but United had their vital victory.
(Raphinha 90+3 pen)
Crystal Palace 0
Tuesday, November 30, 2021
Leeds: Meslier; Dallas, Llorente, Cooper, Struijk (Firpo 45); Phillips; Raphinha, Forshaw, Klich (Rodrigo 45), James; Roberts (Cresswell 90+3).
Crystal Palace: Guaita; Ward, Tomkins, Guehi, Mitchell; Kouyate, Gallagher; Ayew (Olise 89), Schlupp (Hughes 80), Edouard (Benteke 67); Zaha.
Referee: Kevin Friend