EFL

Championship: Ayling strikes to get Leeds back on track for Premier League return

By Sports Desk February 15, 2020

Leeds United ended a three-match winless run in the Championship as Luke Ayling's early strike earned Marcelo Bielsa's side a 1-0 victory over Bristol City.

That moved Leeds back to just four points behind leaders West Brom, who were held 2-2 at home by Nottingham Forest after Matty Cash's late leveller for the visitors at the Hawthorns.

Third-placed Fulham were thumped 3-0 at home by bottom-of-the-table Barnsley, while Brentford nudged above Forest and into fourth place thanks to a 1-1 draw at Birmingham.

Preston, who sit sixth, suffered a 1-0 defeat at home to Millwall, further muddying the play-off picture in the English second tier.

Leeds emerge from a storm

With their promotion hopes hurt by recent defeats to Forest and Wigan, a midweek draw with Brentford offered Leeds some encouragement. They have made slumping after strong starts a familiar trait, yet Saturday's narrow success put their promotion push back on track.

Ayling, a former Bristol City player, drove home from eight yards in the 16th minute, his left-footed strike coming after the ball pinged around the penalty area.

In blustery conditions, Helder Costa should have scored a second for Leeds when he went around Daniel Bentley but allowed the City goalkeeper to get back to make a desperate save.

The conditions were far from helpful, with litter from the stands blowing across the pitch, but Leeds held strong to reignite their promotion push.

Baggies blow

West Brom and Forest played out an entertaining four-goal game in the early kick-off, but the Baggies' three-match winning run is over and that will give the likes of Leeds encouragement.

Callum Robinson fired West Brom ahead after 37 minutes, before Kyle Bartley's own goal levelled up the game by half-time. A second own goal, this time from Tobias Figueiredo, restored West Brom's lead and looked set to bring the hosts maximum points.

Yet a twist in the narrative arrived in the first minute of stoppage time, with Cash driving forward and cracking in a sublime leveller, a ferocious finish that arrowed across Sam Johnstone and into the far left corner.

 

Chasing pack step off the pace

Scott Parker saw his Fulham side flop against Barnsley, with Cauley Woodrow's double - the first a penalty - and Jacob Brown's fine strike giving the Tykes a stunning Craven Cottage win and a glimmer of hope in their attempt to beat the drop.

The goals came early at St Andrew's where Birmingham took a 13th-minute lead against Brentford through Lukas Jutkiewicz, with Ethan Pinnock grabbing an equaliser four minutes later.

Stoke led QPR 2-0 after 31 minutes at Loftus Road but crumbled to a 4-2 defeat, Bright Osayi-Samuel and Ilias Chair grabbing late goals for the London side. Ryan Tunnicliffe's strike gave Luton a 1-0 win at Middlesbrough, and Shaun Hutchinson headed Millwall to their victory at Preston.

Ten-man Owls humbled

Cardiff CIty drew 2-2 at home against Wigan, while Yakou Meite, George Puscas and Sam Baldock, with a stoppage-time penalty, netted as Reading romped home 3-0 at Sheffield Wednesday, who had Osaze Urhoghide sent off early in the second half.

John Buckley and Tosin Adarabioyo cracked in first-half goals at The Valley as Blackburn were 2-0 winners against Charlton, nudging Rovers closer to the play-off picture.

A 25-yard strike from Tom Lawrence gave Derby County the lead at home against Huddersfield, but it finished 1-1 at Pride Park after a surging run and smart finish from Harry Toffolo.

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  • Solskjaer says fan protests have affected Man United players Solskjaer says fan protests have affected Man United players

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says Manchester United's recent loss of form could be partly due to off-field issues but is hoping supporters can give his side a lift against Fulham on Tuesday.

    The Red Devils lost back-to-back Premier League home games against Leicester City and Liverpool last week in a little over 48 hours amid a backdrop of fan protests against the club's ownership.

    Supporters forced the initial clash with Liverpool two weeks ago to be postponed late on after demonstrating inside and outside Old Trafford.

    United had to alter their pre-match plans for both the rearranged clash with Liverpool and the loss to Leicester to ensure their players were in the stadium well ahead of kick-off.

    Solskjaer admits the disruption affected his squad and, ahead of United welcoming fans to Old Trafford for the first time in 14 months, the Norwegian has called for unity.

    "I didn't want to use it as an excuse because we lost two games but surely it's a reason behind the performances," Solskjaer said at a news conference on Monday.

    "I'm not saying it didn't affect them, but I was impressed with how professional they were and how they went about it.

    "I think the mood in any club and the relationship between the team and the fans is vital to what happens on the pitch.

    "The players are all human beings, we're all human beings, and we will react to getting our supporters back in a positive way.

    "They have always given us extra energy and hopefully the players will give the fans a reason to cheer and that's what we have to focus on. It's a big game for us in that respect."

    Tuesday's visit of Fulham will see up to 10,000 in attendance for United's final home game of the season as coronavirus restrictions continue to be eased in the United Kingdom.

    Victory for United would guarantee a second-place finish in the Premier League for just the second time since Alex Ferguson retired at the end of the 2012-13 season.

    Jose Mourinho was in charge for that previous occasion and described it as one of his best achievements in management, but ​Solskjaer will not celebrate finishing so far behind Manchester City.

    "The competition is a lot harder now than when I was a player," he said. "Of course, you have three, four, maybe five teams that challenge for the top two positions.

    "The top two positions have been taken by two teams in the past few years and for us to move into them and divide them is a good performance, but it's not an achievement.

    "You can't say it's an achievement. We've taken steps as a team, we're not where we want to be. We know we have some deficiencies as a group.

    "There are parts of the game we need to improve on but I've felt we’ve made strides in most places.

    "I've been very pleased with the players this season, I've got to say. I've been impressed by them, but we want to take the next step as well."

    United have won 18 of their past 22 Premier League meetings with Fulham and are unbeaten in their last 12 against them in the competition, winning 10 of those.

    Solskjaer's side follow up Tuesday's fixture with a trip to Wolves on the final day, before turning their focus to the Europa League final with Villarreal on May 26.

    That game in Gdansk offers Solskjaer a chance to win his first piece of silverware as United boss, but he is not thinking about that game with two Premier League matches still to go.

    "You know whatever team I pick against Fulham, it has to be a team that gives everything," he said.

    "If you go into a game tentative, if you have something else in your mind, you don't fly into the tackles as you should, you don't sprint as normal, you don't maybe focus as much.

    "There's more of a danger of getting hurt in that kind of position. We want to build momentum, we want to build confidence because of course we've lost the last two at Old Trafford.

    "We don't want to go into an important game with bad momentum or a bad feeling, so we use these two games to get results but also to get confidence."

    United have lost their final home league game of the season in just one of the previous 13 campaigns, doing so against Cardiff City in 2018-19.

    The Red Devils have Daniel James and Anthony Martial back, but Harry Maguire and fellow centre-back Phil Jones are both out.

  • Premier League data dive: Alisson the hero as Liverpool take Champions League box seat Premier League data dive: Alisson the hero as Liverpool take Champions League box seat

    Champions League qualification is all that is left to be settled in the Premier League, and there was another huge twist on Sunday.

    With Liverpool heading for what could have been a costly draw at relegated West Brom, an unlikely hero cropped up in the form of goalkeeper Alisson.

    Before Alisson's heroics at the Hawthorns, Crystal Palace overcame Aston Villa, Tottenham kept on their push for a European finish by beating Wolves, while Everton's dismal home form continued with what Carlo Ancelotti labelled an "embarrassing" defeat to lowly Sheffield United in the late game.

    Using Opta data, we take a look at the best facts from across Sunday's games.

    Crystal Palace 3-2 Aston Villa: Mitchell completes Eagles comeback

    Sunday kicked-off with what turned out to be a five-goal thriller – Palace coming from behind twice to win 3-2. Villa have lost four of their last seven Premier League matches when scoring first (W1 D2). Prior to this, they had won 12 of their first 13 league matches this season after netting the game's opening goal.

    Palace scored three goals in a Premier League match for the first time since their 5-1 win over West Brom in December, while they did so at Selhurst Park for the first time since beating Leeds United 4-1 in November.

    There were 42 attempts at goal in this match (23 for Palace, 19 for Villa), with only Manchester United's 6-2 defeat of Leeds seeing more in a Premier League game this season (43).

    Tyrick Mitchell became Palace's youngest top-flight scorer (21y 257d) since Clinton Morrison in May 1998 against Sheffield Wednesday (18y 361d), while he is the youngest to score and assist in a Premier League game for the club since George Ndah in January 1995 against Leicester (20y 22d).

    Mitchell scored the winner after teeing up Christian Benteke – only Olivier Giroud (32) has scored more headed Premier League goals than the Belgian (31) since the start of 2012-13.

    John McGinn and Anwar El Ghazi netted for Villa, but Wilfried Zaha's 11th goal of the season, his most in a single top-flight campaign, levelled the scores before Mitchell's winner.

    Tottenham 2-0 Wolves: Kane keeps on golden boot charge as Spurs aim for Europe

    Harry Kane struck as Tottenham moved into the top six with a 2-0 win over Wolves. Kane has now scored 22 goals and provided 13 assists in the league this season – the only players who can better his 35 goal involvements in Europe's top five leagues are Robert Lewandowski and Lionel Messi.

    Kane has also hit the woodwork nine times in the Premier League this season, the most since Kevin De Bruyne in 2016-17 (also nine). Since full shot data is available for the Premier League (2003-04), the only player to hit the woodwork more in a season is Robin van Persie in 2011-12 (10).

    Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg set up Kane's opener and then got Spurs' second just after the hour, scoring and assisting in a Premier League game for the first time in his 145th appearance.

    Tottenham have now won each of their first three home league matches under Ryan Mason, making him the first Spurs boss to do so since Harry Redknapp in November 2008.

    Meanwhile, since winning three of their first five away games in the Premier League in 2020-21, Wolves have only won two of 13 on the road in the competition (D5 L6).

    West Brom 1-2 Liverpool: Alisson makes Reds history

    Liverpool's Champions League chances were hanging by a thread as they won a late corner at the Hawthorns, but the most unlikely hero rescued three points.

    In Liverpool's entire history since they were founded in 1892, Alisson is the first goalkeeper to ever score a competitive goal for the club, after he headed in Trent Alexander-Arnold's delivery.

    His goal was Liverpool's latest Premier League away winner (94:18) since Benteke vs Crystal Palace in March 2016 (95:10), while the Brazilian scored the very first headed goal by a goalkeeper since the formation of the competition in 1992.

    Hal Robson-Kanu put West Brom ahead with his first Premier League goal since November 2017, the Welshman having last started a top-flight game in December of that year.

    Mohamed Salah equalised with an excellent first-time finish, his 125th goal for Liverpool in all competitions, and he is still level with Spurs' Kane in the race for the golden boot.

    Liverpool have now won six of their last eight Premier League games (D2), the same number as they registered in their 19 top-flight games beforehand (W6 D5 L8), and with Chelsea and Leicester City meeting this week, the Reds are in a strong position to snatch a Champions League spot.

    Everton 0-1 Sheffield United: Toffees' European hopes fall flat

    European qualification may be finally beyond Everton now after they suffered their ninth home defeat of the campaign – their joint-worst total in a league season, alongside 1912-13, 1947-48, 1950-51 and 1993-94.

    Bottom club Sheffield United picked up only a second win from their past 24 away league outings (D3 L19), and ended a run of seven straight Premier League defeats on the road since beating Manchester United 2-1 in January.

    Only Fulham (four) have earned fewer home points in the Premier League in 2021 so far than Everton's tally of six (P11 W1 D3 L7), with the Toffees' one win the joint-fewest on home soil in the competition this calendar year (level with Burnley and Fulham).

    Daniel Jebbison (17y 309d) marked his full Premier League debut with the winner, the teenager becoming the youngest player to ever score on his first start in the competition, breaking Danny Cadamarteri's (17y 343d) record set for Everton against Barnsley in September 1997, which was also scored at Goodison Park.

    Jebbison is also the youngest player to score a match-winning goal in a Premier League game since Federico Macheda (17y 232d) in April 2009.

  • Klopp reveals his role in dramatic Alisson winner against West Brom Klopp reveals his role in dramatic Alisson winner against West Brom

    Jurgen Klopp has revealed his role in Alisson's "world class" late winner against West Brom: not telling the Liverpool goalkeeper to head back to his own box.

    The Reds goalkeeper kept his team's hopes of Champions League qualification on track as he headed in a Trent Alexander-Arnold corner to make it 2-1 in injury time at the Hawthorns on Sunday.

    In doing so, the Brazilian became the first goalkeeper in the club's 129-year history to find the back of the net in a competitive fixture.

    But, when asked if he had called for his No.1 to go up for his big moment, Klopp replied: "No, I looked at the corner. I don’t exactly know. I saw Ali starting [to go up]. 

    "My part of the goal is that I didn’t shout, 'Stay back!' I just let him run. 

    "The last minute of the game, nobody has to ask usually a ‘keeper to go in the opposite box when you have to win, which we obviously had to. 

    "He went there and what a goal! It was incredible. Wow. We saw it now already 10 times back in the dressing room. It's absolutely incredible. 

    "If Olivier Giroud scores a goal like this everybody says it's a world-class goal. When Alisson is doing it, we have to say the same."

    After scoring, Alisson was swamped by team-mates who are fully aware of what he has been through during a difficult year that was made even more testing by the loss of his father.

    On that reaction, Klopp added: "The way that his team-mates showed today how much they like him is the best description. 

    "He is a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful person and [he is] funny, smart, thoughtful, intense in moments. 

    "He is just a great guy and it couldn't have been for a better person to have such a special moment after all that he went through. I am really, really happy for him."

    Klopp did not only have good news to share as he reflected on a big win, though, the German revealing that Liverpool have been hit by two further injury blows.

    And they mean Diogo Jota and Ozan Kabak will not feature in the remaining two games of the season against Burnley and Crystal Palace.

    He continued: "Diogo, I don't know actually. As I said, it is not too serious but as always, you have to wait [to see] how it develops, how it heals. 

    "It is a little bone in the foot and we have to see. I think he will now be in a boot for two weeks or so and when he gets out of the boot then the doctors will check how it developed, how far the progress is, so I don't know that but of course, it is not a top moment. 

    "Ozan isn't in the long-term [injuries] but nobody is coming back, I think."

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