Brentford were thoroughly dominated by a revitalised Leeds and even needed their visitors to gift them a goal, but still came away with a point in this intriguing top-of-the-table encounter.
A horrible mistake from Kiko Casilla, not his first this season, let in Saïd Benrahma to open the scoring in the first half. But another goalkeeping error, from Brentford’s David Raya, allowed Liam Cooper to equalise before half-time. Leeds went on to grab hold of the match in the second half and created at least three good chances, but were unable to convert their superiority into victory.
Leeds came into the match on a horrible run of form, entirely out of keeping with their early-season performances unless, that is, you had seen the same thing happen to the Whites last year.
Having lost four of their previous five matches, and not scored in any of those defeats, questions have begun to surface once again about whether Marcelo Bielsa’s intensive physical – and mental – approach had begun to take its toll on the players.
Brentford, meanwhile, were in the opposite kind of form, with four wins out of their previous five. There was a thumping west London derby win over QPR and a late victory over Middlesbrough at the weekend. Thomas Frank, the Brentford manager, had seen fit to observe before this match that Leeds were “scared” of his Bees, so well had they closed down an 11-point gap to two before kick-off.
Goodness knows whether people still pin such remarks to the dressing-room wall – it’s probably easier to post on WhatsApp – but either way it appeared Frank’s message had reached the ears of the Leeds squad. They were focused and determined from kick-off and had the best of the opening quarter, with Jack Harrison creating the best opportunity to open the scoring, only to scuff his shot after dribbling his way in off the left wing.
Given their recent form there was always an asterisk against Leeds’ initial showing and after 25 minutes Brentford took the lead. Casilla may have once worn the jersey of Real Madrid but he is currently looking like a real liability.
Leeds’ recent losses have been marked by Casilla errors and here was another, the Spaniard completely misreading a gentle backpass from Cooper, missing it, and letting Benrahma in to score. Casilla pounded the turf in anger and, despite what must have been their own chagrin, his teammates came over to help him up.
Brentford had been stuttering up to that point but soon enough the flicks, tricks and clever movement started to come back into their play. Just past the half-hour Luke Ayling did brilliantly to block a Benrahma effort after a cute dummy from Ollie Watkins had offered the Algerian a shooting opportunity.
Leeds were down, but they were not out and by half-time they were level. The goal came from a corner, won after Patrick Bamford had half-heartedly forced Rico Henry into clearing behind. Pablo Hernández took the kick and the delivery was spot on, coming down on to the penalty spot into a crowd of players. Raya came to claim and got there, but amid the bustle was unable to keep his grip. The ball spilled and there was Leeds’ captain, Cooper, to poke home into the roof of the net. He jogged back to the halfway line alone and geed up the raucous travelling fans further.
Leeds emerged for the second half with the same attitude as the first, but also with more belief. They had the measure of Brentford’s midfield defensively and were beginning to look sharp on the counter. Bamford should have scored within seven minutes of the restart but badly misjudged a free header from an Ayling cross.
In the 58th minute, Bamford’s good play in a tight space released Helder Costa down the right. He found Mateusz Klich on the edge of the Brentford box, who had time to pick out Harrison in space on the far side but mis-hit the pass. Costa picked up the loose ball but his shot was tame. A third chance came just after the hour but again Bamford’s connection left a lot to be desired as Harrison picked him out on the edge of the box.
The longer the game went on the more it became clear the only thing standing between Leeds and victory was themselves. And so it seemed a positive augur when Jean-Kévin Augustin came on for Bamford with 15 minutes to go. The RB Leipzig loanee has a physical heft that Bamford lacked and his first swing at the ball cleaned Julian Jeanvier out. But the clock ran down without the Frenchman getting a proper chance. Hernández did at least test Raya in the dying stages, but this time the keeper was up to the task and tipped the volley over the bar. Brentford escaped to frighten Leeds another day.