Leeds United defy Wood's absence to beat Sunderland
Leeds United showed a terrific team bond as they kept another clean sheet and won 2-0 at Sunderland despite the late pull-out of striker Chris Wood after he stated he was not in right frame of mind to play.
The absence of last season’s top scorer who had his head turned by a proposed move to Burnley could have given Thomas Christiansen’s men a big excuse for a sub standard display, but they showed the togetherness of the rest of the squad with a solid all-round display.
It was not spectacular, but definitely deserved as Samuel Saiz scored one goal and made the other in the victory.
However, the points did not come without cost as Leeds lost Pablo Hernandez to injury in the first half and stand-in striker Caleb Ekuban to an ankle knock after the break, leaving them without a current out and out forward at the club unless Souleymane Doukara is brought back out of the cold.
The defence, with Liam Cooper back after injury and Pontus Jansson having his best game of the season so far, did a good job right from the outset as they came under early pressure.
A great block from Jansson kept out the hosts’ best effort in the first 10 minutes as James Vaughan’s shot was thwarted.
United’s first threat came on 11 minutes when Ezgjan Alioski went on a good run to the edge of the box and appeared to be pulled back by Brendan Galloway, but no decision came from referee Andy Davies.
Kalvin Phillips hit a 25-yard free-kick that was saved by home keeper Jason Steele before the closest Sunderland came to a goal came when Lewis Grabban found space in the box and chipped the ball over keeper Felix Wiedwald only to see Cooper get back onto the line to head the ball onto his own crossbar.
Relieved Leeds made the most of their luck as two minutes later they opened the scoring. Alioski found Saiz in the area and the Spaniard did the rest with a superb finish, low and powerful into the bottom corner of the net.
United’s confidence visibly listed and they could have had a second goal when Hernandez headed wide from Saiz’s cross.
Alioski, who was a constant danger down Leeds’ right, fired an angled shot wide after being put clear.
Sunderland mustered strikes from distance by Vaughan, Ibrahim Ndong and Lee Cattermole, but were no real threat until half-time.
It remained comfortable for the visitors after the break, although they lost the willing Ekuban to injury with Stuart Dallas coming on to play on the left and Kemar Roofe switching to centre-forward after he had earlier been a sub for Hernandez.
Alioski saw a well struck free-kick saved by Steele while the Leeds keeper was untroubled at the other end.
Alioski produced a weak shot that was easily saved after a good run by Saiz before United emphasised their superiority with a second goal. Alioski and Saiz combined well again and the latter’s driven cross was neatly headed home at the back post by Dallas.
Sunderland did have a couple of late chances, but Aiden McGeady saw his goalbound shot headed clear by Jansson and Billy Jones put his shot into the side netting from McGeady’s cross following the only real slip of the game by the Whites centre-backs.
Head coach Christiansen was understandably pleased with his second Championship win.
He said: “I believe it was a very important win for the team confidence, it was another clean sheet and we’re still unbeaten.
“We had to face a very good team. We knew their strengths and we had to put ourselves into the gamer, being strong, but I believe we controlled it all.”
On the absence of striker Chris Wood, he added: “It’s not a one-man show.
“We have a lot of players and today the team worked as a team not an individual. I am very happy for that.
“Everyone showed that they can play. Ekuban played a very good game, kept many balls and made good runs in the deep. But not only him, the whole team.
“We are having bad luck right now with injuries, but the ones who come in are giving everything and it will be difficult to make the 11.
“I expect Chris Wood to join Burnley. When one player doesn’t want to stay then there’s nothing to do. I only work with a player who fights for the team and wants to stay.
“These are my players and for them I die.
“I can understand Chris’s situation, but he also had a chance to grow with Leeds. It’s his decision, I have to accept it and also the club has decided to accept the offer.”
Leeds United 2
(Saiz 21, Dallas 75)
Saturday, August 19, 2017
Sunderland: Steele, Jones, Browning, Kone, Galloway (Matthews 55), Honeyman, Ndong, Cattermole (Asoro 74), McGeady, Grabban, Vaughan (Khazri 55).
Leeds: Wiedwald, Ayling, Jansson, Cooper, Anita, Alioski, Phillips, O’Kane, Saiz (Klich 80), Hernandez (Roofe 25), Ekuban (Dallas 62)
Referee: Andy Davies.