LEEDS United’s wait for a first Championship win this season on a Tuesday night goes on after they were held at home by Barnsley despite scoring three times.
Max Gradel struck twice and top scorer Luciano Becchio was also on target, but the Whites had to settle for a point again after defensive blunders gifted their Yorkshire rivals a draw from 2-1 down at half-time and 3-2 behind going into the last 10 minutes.
United had to play all bar eight minutes of the second half with 10 men after Bradley Johnson was harshly sent-off for two offences deemed bookable by controversial referee Mark Clattenburg. But they looked to be seeing the game out until Kieran Trippier struck with an 82nd minute free-kick that left Kasper Schmeichel unsighted after sneaking through a hole in the defensive wall.
Barnsley gave Leeds a second minute shock as well when a more controversially awarded free-kick was played low into the box by Trippier and after Danny Haynes mis-controlled at the far post the ball fell kindly for Jason Shackell to score from close range.
United slowly got into their stride and were unlucky not to level when Gradel’s 20-yard free-kick was tipped onto the woodwork by Luke Steele and bounced back off the keeper for a corner.
Becchio sliced a volley wide when well placed and Jonny Howson sent a header wide before an equaliser did come on 23 minutes as Steele came for a Neil Kilkenny cross and missed the ball, leaving Becchio an empty net to head into.
With the Whites now in control they surged forward for another goal and after Howson saw a shot easily saved by Steele he got the ball again in a dangerous position and this time threaded a pass for Gradel to run onto. The winger looked second favourite to reach the ball, but Barnsley defender Matt Hill mistimed his challenge and brought him down.
Leeds’ first home penalty in the league this season was the result and Gradel picked himself up to confidently score from the spot.
It stayed 2-1 to half-time, although United came close to another when they rattled the woodwork a second time as Johnson was unlucky from close range.
Barnsley were fortunate to still be in the game, but looked a different proposition after the break and equalised within three minutes as left-back Hill found space down the left and had time to pick his spot from just inside the box.
Only a brave save by Schmeichel at the feet of Garry O’Connor prevented a second goal for the visitors soon after and a rattled United then lost Johnson for an innocuous challenge on Jacob Mellis that came on top of a more deserved booking for a late tackle towards the end of the first half.
The game remained open despite the hosts’ numerical disadvantage with action at both ends, Alex Bruce heading over when unmarked from a corner and Haynes shooting wide after making space for himself in the area.
It was advantage Leeds again on 70 minutes when Gradel took the ball off Shackell and rounded two defenders before curling a superb shot into the far corner.
It was a goal worthy of winning the game, but United paid the price for more sloppy defending when players in the wall failed to do their job, allowing Trippier’s poorly hit free-kick to give the visitors a point that had looked unlikely at half-time.
In truth, Leeds’ defence did not look settled all night and with 52 goals now conceded in the league this season manager Simon Grayson was left to bemoan the errors by his side, which have left them down in sixth falling off the pace for an automatic promotion spot.
He said: “We started the game poorly, but showed a lot of spirit and character to get the equaliser and the penalty.
“You knew you were always going to be in a tough game because Barnsley work hard, they close you down, they set a tempo and they’ve got one or two players who can cause you problems.
“We said at half-time that we have to do the simple things and move the ball a little bit quicker and don’t give them an opportunity to get tight to you and that was our undoing really. We’ve just made individual mistakes.
“Bradley Johnson took an extra touch when he shouldn’t have done and that led to him making a tackle that gave the referee the opportunity to book him and send him off.
“But it was a bit harsh. It was a soft sending off, but the players stuck at their task and you can never fault them for their effort and spirit and quality when we’ve got the ball. It’s just about being a bit more ruthless and a bit more professional.
“We did ever so well to respond then gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game. But we gave a free-kick away then we turned our backs away in the wall.
“When you’ve conceded three goals, people think the back four have been poor again, but it’s other areas of the pitch that people have got to concentrate on because there’s a fine line between winning games and losing games. It’s as a team that we defend.
“There’s 13 games to go for the majority of teams in the Championship. There will be many twists and turns from now until the end of the season and we’re in the mix, we’ve got an opportunity. But we have to eradicate certain elements of our game if we’re going to do anything this year.”
Leeds United 3
(Becchio 23, Gradel 36, pen, 70)
(Shackell 2, Hill 48, Trippier 82)
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Leeds: Schmeichel, Lichaj, Bruce, O’Brien, McCartney, Snodgrass (Watt 66), Kilkenny, Howson, Johnson (sent-off 53), Gradel, Becchio (Somma 66).
Barnsley: Steele, Hassell (Butterfield 74), Shackell, McShane, Hill, Trippier, Arismendi, Doyle (O’Brien 45), Mellis (Gray 90), Haynes, O’Connor.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Picture above shows Max Gradel sent sprawling to win a penalty for Leeds United against Barnsley. Picture: Ian Harber