Raphinha holds nerve and grabs vital win for Leeds against Crystal Palace
No one inside Elland Road could overstate just how important one swing of Raphinha’s left boot could prove to be in the context of Leeds United’s season. Make no mistake about it, there had been plenty for Marcelo Bielsa to be impressed with prior to the stoppage-time winner from the Brazilian which pulled his side further away from the wrong end of the Premier League table.
But it is goals, not encouraging performances, which are ultimately the difference between success and failure at this level, something Leeds fans can painstakingly attest to having watched their side in recent weeks. Without the goal threat Patrick Bamford provided last campaign, Leeds have laboured in front of goal, and this looked set to be another all-too-familiar chapter in their season in front of a cacophonous home crowd.
“The team fought the whole game, which is necessary,” Bielsa said afterwards. There was certainly no shortage of effort, but as chance after chance came and went, it looked like all that effort would be for nothing. Then, as Leeds frantically pressed, Marc Guéhi handled in the Leeds box and Raphinha kept his cool to send Vicente Guaita the wrong way. Only in May will we know how important that moment will be but, for now, it certainly seems seismic.
Leeds are now five points clear of the bottom three, and with Bamford’s return imminent, there is cause for optimism. “We always give everything in every game, but a victory brings happiness and in a human group, happiness is indispensable,” Bielsa said. For their opponents, however, the frantic final few moments left a very different feeling lingering in the air for Patrick Vieira.
His side could have gone seventh, albeit temporarily before the rest of the midweek fixtures, with a win. They had chances of their own, and certainly played well enough in patches to win the game, but they were undone by the late drama. “It’s very frustrating because we were the better team,” Vieira said. “We created enough chance to score and didn’t and in a tight game like this, if you don’t take your chances, you get punished.”
How Palace were punished. Leeds had the majority of the opportunities but the best one fell to the visitors in the final moments. Five minutes after coming off the bench, Christian Benteke was unmarked at the back post, but somehow contrived to head a Wilfried Zaha cross wide from point-blank range. It was unclear if a wasteful Leeds side would make Benteke and Palace rue that missed opportunity and for large periods it looked as though they would not.
The home side began both halves brightly but the more clearcut opportunities came after half-time. The substitute Rodrigo prodded wide after a wonderful crossfield ball from Raphinha freed Dan James, before the industrious Adam Forshaw – who has returned from a long absence with genuine aplomb – also tested Guaita. Those opportunities, and several others, came and went and as the Elland Road crowd began to head for the exits, frustrated once again, their luck turned in an instant.
How entire seasons can change on moments like this one, too. Kevin Friend initially waved away the handball claims against Guéhi but when VAR intervened, he pointed to the spot. Without Bamford, Leeds fans watched with bated breath as Raphinha stepped up, before descending into delirium when he deceived Guaita. It is too early to say Leeds’ fortunes have turned but nights like these suggest they can look up, rather than down, with confidence as Christmas – and Bamford’s return – looms on the horizon.