Leeds United youngsters show nerve to please Marcelo Bielsa in cup tie at Fulham
Marcelo Bielsa praised the strong character shown by young members of his team as Leeds United put themselves in the hat for the fourth round of the Carabao Cup with a penalty shoot-out victory at Fulham.
After drawing 0-0 with their London hosts, United won a topsy-turvy shoot-out 6-5 despite Stuart Dallas and Adam Forshaw failing to score from the spot.
As the tie went down to sudden death penalties teenage debutants Joe Gelhardt and Stuart McKinstry stepped up to ensure Leeds would be going through in what is now their best cup run since Bielsa took charge.
Another of United’s younger players, goalkeeper Illan Meslier, was also a hero on the night as he kept out Rodrigo Muniz’s penalty to end the contest.
Head coach Bielsa felt his team had not been at their best as Fulham had made it difficult for them to play their way out of defence at times, but he was delighted with the nerve shown by Gelhardt and McKinstry, who were on their senior debut and were joined in the team that finished the game by 19-year-old centre-half Charlie Cresswell who was pressed into action with four senior defenders unavailable.
He said: “They showed personality and character.
“Gelhardt had missed his last two penalties, he took on board the responsibility and managed to score. McKinstry also had to take one in the most decisive moment and they showed character.”
“It was a very difficult game. It was defined by penalties and was less about who deserved it.
“We had plenty of chances to score and of course you aspire to score them, but what worried me more was that we conceded too many chances in the first half and in the second half.”
Leeds were without injured defenders Luke Ayling, Robin Koch and Diego Llorente and the suspended Pascal Struijk plus England striker Patrick Bamford so were short on numbers for the cup tie.
“We have a group of 18 players plus the support of the young players and from the group nine were missing,” explained Bielsa.
“But the young players managed to contribute and the absences weren’t too bad.”
Bielsa was unable to say how many of the absent players would be available to play against West Ham in the next game on Saturday.
The fact that Leeds were unable to confidently beat opponents from the Championship who left out several of their first teamers showed again that they do lack strength in depth, but there were some positives to take from the tie with Cresswell acquitting himself well at the back alongside Kalvin Phillips, who struggled initially at centre-half, but grew into the game to become more of an influence on the side.
The first real chance went to the hosts as Muniz was off target with a header from Neeskens Kebano’s cross.
Meslier was forced into his first save to keep out Muniz’s low shot soon after while Leeds offered their first threat when another of their youngsters, Crysencio Summerville, on his first start, raced into the area to set up Tyler Roberts, who saw his effort well saved by Marek Rodak.
Rodrigo sent a shot wide after combining well with Mateusz Klich and brought another good save from Rodak with a well struck free-kick.
It was Fulham’s turn to threaten from a free-kick as Kebano’s curling effort was well saved by Meslier.
The second period was not as entertaining with clear chances becoming more sparse as the half wore on and Leeds seemingly running out of ideas.
Bielsa put on the experienced Forshaw and inexperienced Gelhardt and McKinstry from the bench, but the game had a stalemate look about it until added time when Junior Firpo was unable to make the most of an opening after getting forward well from full-back.
Into the penalty shoot-out Leeds took an early 3-1 lead as Rodrigo, Dan James and Phillips all netted and Josh Onomah hit the crossbar with Fulham’s first kick.
But after Stuart Dallas’ spot kick was well saved by Rodak it was back in the balance.
Joe Bryan then sent his penalty sailing over the bar only for Forshaw to do the same with a chance to win it for the visitors.
Firpo, Gelhardt and McKinstry were all on target in the sudden death decider before Muniz saw his spot kick saved low down by Meslier so spark celebrations among the players and more than 5,000 travelling supporters.
Leeds United 0
(Leeds won 6-5 on penalties)
Carabao Cup, round three
Tuesday, September 21, 2021
Fulham: Rodak; Christie, Hector, Mawson, Bryan; Reed (Adarabioyo 83), Onomah; Knockaert (Cavaleiro 71), Quina (De Cordova-Reid 71’), Kebano; Muniz.
Leeds: Meslier; Dallas, Cresswell, Phillips, Firpo; Klich (Gelhardt 68’); James, Shackleton. Rodrigo, Summerville (McKinstry 75’); Roberts (Forshaw 55).
Referee: Tim Robinson