Sam Allardyce sees hope in Leeds United's second half performance at Manchester City
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The result flattered the Whites with City hitting the woodwork three times and Erling Haaland having a rare off day in front of goal, but they stuck at their task and showed more fight than in some of their recent matches to give them at least a bit more hope for their next match, another tough one at home to Newcastle.
“We've got to try and get better between now and next week,” said Allardyce.
“We've got to increase our performance by five per cent – it would be too much asking a bit more than that in such a short period of time.
“We take some hope on our second half performance – not the first half – and let's see if we can build on that and go that little bit farther to make sure it's a result at the end of the day and not a defeat.
"You would probably all think, and rightly, at half-time – how many is it going to be?”
“First half we were defending with spirit. but nowhere near playing in possession like we needed to, to get into their half and relieve some pressure.
“So we changed half-time in terms of just about pushing up the pitch a bit farther, not sitting as deep and making sure our possession became much, much better. We kept giving the ball back, when we stopped doing that we found a few spaces and grew in confidence.
“We gave a silly penalty away, it would have spoiled the whole second half performance had it not been for Joel (Robles) making a wonderful save. We score and then the game is on.
“Manchester City may have given us another opportunity, they were showing a bit of nerves. When you get them playing by the corner flag in the last five or 10 you know you must be in with a chance.
“I'm not upbeat, we didn’t get a result, but I am pleased with what they gave in the second half, not embarrassed themselves. We can build the confidence this week, build confidence on the second half performance and play a lot better for 90 minutes next week and not 45.”
Leeds lined up with a predictably defensive line-up, with Allardyce opting for a 4-5-1 formation, but a back division made up of essentially four full-backs with Liam Cooper and Robin Koch out injured.
The new boss made his first big decision by leaving out goalkeeper Illan Meslier to bring in Joel Robles and said afterwards that Meslier had not been happy when he informed him, but Robles did enough to justify the selection.
The game quickly settled into a pattern of United sitting back, allowing their hosts all the ball. Leeds-born Haaland fired an early effort over and Manuel Akanji sent a header well over from a corner.
Patrick Bamford was left isolated up front, but Leeds did get forward in numbers in the tenth minute and he sent a near post header over.
The first big chance came on 15 minutes when City cleverly worked space as Kevin De Bruyne's low cross was met by Julian Alvarez, who blasted the ball over from 12 yards out. Moments later Haaland had a sight of goal, but Robles got his angles right to save.
The deadlock was broken in the 19th minute when Ilkay Gundogan was left unmarked just inside the box and stroked the ball into the net after meeting Riyad Mahrez's low cross.
Mahrez then went close with a volley and Haaland met De Bruyne's smart lay-off in the area only to shoot just wide.
It was looking like a cricket score was possible at this stage and Gundogan made it 2-0 on 27 minutes when he was again left unmarked and once more calmly placed the ball into the net.
Leeds did have a brief flurry, winning a corner from which Weston McKennie saw his header saved by Ederson.
It was soon back to form with Robles dropping a ball into the box after a mix-up with Rasmus Kristensen, but recovering well to save the follow-up shot by Alvarez.
The game did quieten down for the rest of the half, although Foden sent a spectacular volley over in added time and it was a relief when the players went in for a break – one of the easiest halves City have had all year.
The second half quickly followed the same pattern and within three minutes Haaland unbelievably headed the ball against the crossbar with the goal open.
Haaland was out of luck again soon after as his header was comfortably saved by Robles.
It really did not look like the Premier League's top scorer's day when he turned smartly on the edge of the box only to see his shot hit the post.
Mahrez had a couple of free-kick chances, but one deflected over and another was grabbed on the line by Robles.
City understandably eased up with a big European game coming up and there was precious little coming back the other way as the Whites seemed to simply settle for keeping the score down.
But suddenly the game woke up again as Foden went down under a challenge from substitute Pascal Struijk and Gundogan – on a hat-trick – was given the chance to score from the resulting penalty only to send his spot kick against the post.
Within seconds the ball went down the other end and a defensive mistake allowed Rodrigo to get in behind the City defence. He finished confidently and remarkably it was 2-1.
There was no sign of a second goal, however, and Leeds are another game closer to relegation.
Manchester City 2
(Gundogan 19, 27)
Saturday, May 6, 2023
City: Ederson; Akanji, Laporte, Ake (Walker 54); Lewis, Gundogan (Rodri (90+3); Mahrez, Alvarez (Silva 87), De Bruyne, Foden; Haaland.
Leeds: Robles; Ayling, Kristensen, Wober, Firpo; Harrison (Summerville 65), Forshaw (Struijk 80), Roca (Greenwood 58), McKennie, Gnonto (Rodrigo 58); Bamford (Aaronson 80).
Referee: Andy Madley