Leeds and West Brom settle for a point to stay out in front

Patrick Bamford equalised in the second half after home side had taken an early lead

West Bromwich Albion 1 Leeds United 1

If this game is to prove a microcosm of their season, Leeds should be mightily encouraged. The Championship’s top two sides maintained their nine-point lead over the chasing pack with this thrilling draw and if the Yorkshire club, who have fallen away so badly in the second half of the past three seasons, can prove as resilient between now and May as they did in recovering after half-time here, then their return to the Premier League will be all but assured.

Semi Ajayi gave West Brom the lead inside 80 seconds and Slaven Bilic’s side looked the more penetrative and organised in the first half but the Nigeria defender was credited with an own goal when deflecting in Patrick Bamford’s header early in the second half.

Leeds stay top, on goal difference from West Brom, with 52 points, yet they will know that having gained 48 points in the first half of last season only to fall away with a meagre 35 in the second half of the campaign to lose in the play-offs to Derby County, much hard work lies ahead.


The introduction of Bamford for Eddie Nketiah at half-time re-energised Leeds, who were good value for their point. West Brom have lost only twice all season but, with just one win in six games, they may also feel relieved with this draw.

There was a good late save from Sam Johnstone from Bamford before Kiko Casilla brilliantly tipped over Kyle Edwards’ powerful shot as the game entered stoppage time. It was a thrilling game, full of high tempo and losses of possession, but few will doubt these are the best two sides in the division.

Albion may have been at less than their best recently but no one has been questioning Bilic’s credentials. Indeed, the club’s chief executive, Mark Jenkins, took the opportunity at this turn of the year to offer an insight into the head coach’s integrity in his programme notes. In appraising the club’s success in bringing in younger and hungrier new players late last summer, Jenkins said: “In all my years in the game, Slaven is the only manager I have known to … personally thank [the CEO] for all the support and efforts taken to sign the players. I felt then we had a special man in the head coach’s office and I know our fans feel the same.”

The atmosphere of positivity pervading the Hawthorns, notwithstanding Sunday’s defeat by Middlesbrough, was soon extended in ecstatic fashion. When Matt Phillips forced Ezgjan Alioski into conceding a corner, Casilla could only punch Matheus Pereira’s delivery up towards Ajayi. When his header was nodded back in from beyond the six-yard box by Kyle Bartley, Ajayi managed to clip the ball on the half volley goalwards. A buzz on the officials’ wristwatches indicated that the ball had crossed the line before it was cleared.

Fresh from their breath-taking 5-4 victory at nearby St Andrew’s on Sunday, Leeds proceeded to dominate possession for much of the next half-hour. There were several dangerous crosses but no clearcut chances as West Brom, despite Kieran Gibbs’ return from injury being curtailed early on, worked hard and maintained a disciplined shape. Conor Townsend came on at left-back.

Mistakes in a high-tempo game were not rare and when the returning Romaine Sawyers passed carelessly to Jack Harrison, Leeds’ left-winger crossed for Costa to control, turn inside and shoot, only for Sam Johnstone to save.

Casilla pulled off the save of the half when diving fully to his right to tip aside the exciting Pereira’s free-kick, but Leeds had a strong claim for a penalty rejected when Luke Ayling’s cross-shot struck Jake Livermore’s self-conscious arm. Where is VAR when you need it?

Reprieved, West Brom should have gone in 2-0 up at the break when Phillips broke clear on to Hal Robson-Kanu’s astute through pass only to shoot at Casilla. The rebound was skied by Robson-Kanu.

If West Brom had started the first half on fire, then Leeds lit the touchpaper for a cracking second period. Marcelo Bielsa was in no mood to stand on ceremony and replaced Alioski and Nketiah with Barry Douglas and Bamford for the restart. Within six minutes, his decision was vindicated.

Harrison got down the left wing and delivered a wicked cross to the near post, where Bamford stole a march on his marker to flick on a header that went in off Ajayi.

Nketiah has started only these past two games, with Bamford obliged to drop out with a dead leg in the build-up to Sunday’s game, but it is thought likely he will return to Arsenal, his parent club, having had so little field time. – Guardian