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Monday, June 27, 2022

Leeds scrap their way to precious point despite Crystal Palace’s late push | Premier League

If avoiding relegation is about rolling your sleeves up and fighting for everything then, on this evidence, Leeds should just about make it.

A second successive clean sheet on the road earned Jesse Marsch’s side a point that could prove priceless. It definitely wasn’t pretty on a night when tempers frayed on both sides, although with Crystal Palace having now moved even closer to rubber-stamping their Premier League status for another season there was no reason for Patrick Vieira to complain other than perhaps the below-par performance of the referee.

Sixteen days had passed since Leeds defeated Watford in their last match, but Burnley’s resurgence since sacking Sean Dyche meant that this was an opportunity to avoid being dragged into the relegation battle. Marsch was able to name Kalvin Phillips in his starting line-up for the first time, with the England midfielder making a long-awaited return from a hamstring injury he sustained in December.

The absence of Phillips for so long has not helped Leeds’s predicament, although Marsch’s return of 11 points from seven games – and now five matches unbeaten – since taking over from Marcelo Bielsa at the end of February has eased some of the pressure. Leeds have established a five-point cushion over Everton going into the final stretch of the season, albeit having played a game more.

“The result is big – every point is important and gets us closer towards our ultimate goal,” acknowledged Marsch, the former RB Leipzig manager, who described their next opponents Manchester City as the best team in the world having faced them earlier this season in the Champions League group stages. “Having Kalvin back can really help us.”

The American shared a warm embrace with Vieira before kick off having previously locked horns with the Palace manager while in charge of New York Red Bulls and New York City FC respectively in MLS, although he probably didn’t mention that the last two meetings had ended in 4-0 victories for Marsch. Palace seemed determined to make amends for a disappointing run of three defeats that included the FA Cup semi-final loss to Chelsea having put seven goals without reply past Arsenal and Everton in their last two matches here.

Jean-Philippe Mateta had an early sighter after racing onto a long pass but his lob over Illan Meslier lacked power, while a stretching Diego Llorente just did enough to deny the Frenchman following a teasing cross from Jordan Ayew.

While the travelling supporters made their frustrations known over the decision to schedule this match on an evening when there were no trains from London back to Yorkshire, they had little to excite them on the pitch until Liam Cooper’s header from a Jack Harrison corner that went straight into Vicente Guaita’s arms in the 27th minute.

Crystal Palace could not find their way past Illan Meslier and a resolute Leeds defence.
Crystal Palace could not find their way past Illan Meslier and a resolute Leeds defence. Photograph: Tony Obrien/Reuters

Pitted against a potential rival for a place in England’s World Cup squad in the incessant Conor Gallagher, Phillips was one of three Leeds players to avoid being cautioned by the referee, Darren England, for fouls on Wilfried Zaha in the first half – decisions that didn’t go down well with the Ivory Coast forward and the home supporters.

Luke Ayling was particularly lucky to escape after two fouls on him and some of Zaha’s frustration seemed to boil over when he appeared to raise his hands towards Raphinha, although the Brazilian certainly made the most of the opportunity to throw himself to the ground and there was no punishment. Joachim Andersen finally became the first player to be shown a yellow card just before half-time as England left the pitch to a chorus of boos from the Palace fans.

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“Wilf showed a lot of maturity to keep his cool,” admitted Vieira, who felt his side deserved to take all three points. “The only thing that was missing was a goal.” His team have not conceded a first half goal at home since losing to Liverpool on 23 January but Palace were almost caught napping at the restart as Leeds went on the attack.

The hosts certainly looked more likely to snatch the victory once France Under-21 forward Michael Olise was introduced from the bench late on, with Gallagher’s appeals for a penalty against Llorente correctly turned down by VAR. The Spaniard was booked for dragging back Zaha before the Palace forward forced Meslier into a double save with his legs at the near post, while the Frenchman again stood firm when Gallagher was set up by a brilliant piece of skill by Olise to make sure Leeds left south London feeling pretty pleased with themselves.

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