Leeds snatch last-gasp draw against Brighton to move out of relegation zone

Leeds 1-1 Brighton: Pascal Struijk scored in stoppage time to cancel out Danny Welbeck’s opener

Mark Critchley
Elland Road
Sunday 15 May 2022 18:09
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<p>Pascal Struijk scores a dramatic late goal for Leeds at Elland Road </p>

Pascal Struijk scores a dramatic late goal for Leeds at Elland Road

It was just one goal to earn just one point but it could make a world of difference to Leeds’ chances of Premier League survival. Pascal Struijk’s stoppage-time equaliser, fashioned by the magical footwork of young Joe Gelhardt, salvaged a 1-1 draw against Brighton and Hove Albion to send the Elland Road crowd home happy, when they had briefly looked on the edge of mutiny.

Before Struijk’s back-post header, there were chants from the home crowd for the departed Marcelo Bielsa and demands for the board to go the same way as him. While a goal down to Danny Welbeck’s neat first-half finish, Jesse Marsch’s side faced the prospect of being relegated to all intents and purposes before they next kicked a ball.

Their vastly inferior goal difference meant that a win for Burnley at Villa Park on Thursday night would all but end their return to the top flight after only two seasons. Instead, if Burnley lose that game, Leeds’ destiny will be within their own hands. And at full-time, there was renewed hope around Elland Road that this side may just have enough about them to avoid the drop.

Despite this marking the end of a three-game run against top-four opponents, it was never going to be straightforward for Leeds. Brighton not only came into this game on the back of two impressive, successive wins against Wolves and Manchester United but had the joint-best away record in the league outside of the top three, too. They looked on their way to another three points until Struijk’s late intervention.

The goal owed everything to Gelhardt, who took the ball on the right-hand edge of the penalty box, shimmied around Marc Cucurella and then sat Lewis Dunk down. He still needed to bypass the Brighton captain and so clipped the ball over his body, then lofted a cross to the far post. At a narrowing angle, Struijk nodded in to send Elland Road into raptures. It was the ending Leeds desperately needed after a poor start.

Burnley’s defeat at Tottenham in the lunchtime kick-off had energised Elland Road and, briefly, the Leeds players, too. Marsch’s side could count themselves unlucky not to be in front within the first two minutes when Robert Sanchez fumbled a corner, dropping the ball inside the six-yard box. Gelhardt spun on his heels to shoot at point-blank range but hit his own team-mate, Liam Cooper, square in the jaw.

Maintaining that intensity – and feeding off the crowd – was Leeds’ best hope of taking the points they required but it quickly frittered away, to be replaced by an air of apprehension. Brighton began to regularly find space in behind, with Solly March proving a particular handful, staying onside and popping up unmarked inside the penalty area for a one-on-one with Illan Meslier. The wing-back could have done much better than dragging a tame shot well wide.

Leeds were still pushing at the other end but their attacking play was marked by hesitation and indecision that would inadvertently lead to Brighton’s breakthrough. Rodrigo had a simple through ball to play Jack Harrison in but wavered, allowing Yves Bissouma to snatch the ball from his toes and launch a sweeping counter-attack. Bissouma slipped in Welbeck, who barged into the box, muscled Diego Llorente out of a challenge and clipped a neat finish over Meslier.

Brighton were more than good value for their lead and the ease with which they were finding gaps to play through was frustrating Leeds, not least Kalvin Phillips, who threw a water bottle down in anger during a break in play. Raphinha came over to the touchline and gently pressed his hand into his teammate’s, as if to remind him that with half an hour gone there was still plenty of time to turn the game around, but Leeds continued to let Brighton come forward with impunity.

A last-ditch sliding challenge by Robin Koch inside his own penalty area denied Leandro Trossard the opportunity to pull the trigger on yet another one-on-one, fashioned by March’s delightful through ball.

Leeds had none of the same incision and only looked like creating on set-pieces. Mateusz Klich came the closest to an equaliser before the break on a corner, firing from the edge of the area, but a superb one-handed save by Sanchez turned the ball around the post.

Leeds fans saw their side score a late equaliser to give them fresh hope of survival

That corner was Raphinha’s and, as usual, if any player looked likely to dig Leeds out of the hole they found themselves in, it was the in-demand Brazilian. There was more space for him at the start of the second half and one cross from that wing was flicked just wide by Rodrigo.

A free-kick hit from around 25 yards out then sent Sanchez sprawling once more – the Brighton goalkeeper acrobatically clawing the ball out of the top left-hand corner – and Cucurella had to be alert to stop the 25-year-old from sliding in at the far post to convert an excellent low cross by Rodrigo.

Leeds had improved and were racking up the chances now, if still failing to take them. Sanchez had a lot to do with that and denied Klich once more, beating away a shot from a narrow angle then rising to claim the dropping ball out of the air.

The hard-working Gelhardt momentarily thought he had beaten him minutes later, only for his drive to fly wide of the post. Still he kept going, though, and eventually, he produced the moment that could be a huge step towards survival.

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