West Brom 4 Leeds United 1
Another Saturday of unpredictable scorelines ended with Norwich City top of the Championship after Leeds, top going into the weekend programme and still there after Sheffield United were held by Wednesday on Friday evening, slipped to only a third defeat of the season.
Albion’s recent form had been giving cause for concern after a run of three defeats in four matches but second-half goals from Hal Robson-Kanu, Matt Phillips, Harvey Barnes and substitute Dwight Gayle rewarded a strong counter-attacking performance against a Leeds side who made too many mistakes, lifting Darren Moore’s team back into the top six.
There was plenty of energy from the start from the home side, determined to arrest the mini-slump that followed their positive start to the campaign and re-establish themselves as promotion contenders. Within the space of six or seven minutes, Hal Robson-Kanu went close with a decent effort that just cleared the bar, Tosin Adarabioyo fired a good chance wide from a corner and Jay Rodriguez tested Bailey Peacock-Farrell from 20 yards that had the goalkeeper stretching to push it away from danger.
Leeds, unchanged from the XI that won at Wigan a week ago, tried to control the tempo, moving the ball around midfield and using the full width of the pitch to stretch the home defence, but then a mistake by Kalvin Phillips, casually giving the ball away on the halfway line almost cost them as Harvey Barnes, breaking clear, exchanged passes with Robson-Kanu but shot into the side netting.
The visitors countered, Barry Douglas and Ezgjan Alioski involved in creating a chance from which Pablo Hernandez might have done better. The pace remained generally breathless. Within moments, Albion went close again, Rodriguez rattling the bar with a clever dipping attempt that had the goalkeeper beaten.
Towards half-time Leeds fashioned another opportunity to go ahead. Again, width was the key, a ball out to Alioski on the left opening up a gap. Mat Klich slipped into it for Alioski’s pass but shot straight at Sam Johnstone, who was able to beat it away.
As half-time arrived, Leeds had the edge in terms of possession and showed some moments of quality but mistakes in midfield exposed them to danger a little more often than was comfortable for their coaching staff and Albion will probably feel they had enough chances to have begun the second period with their noses in front.
Thoughts on the Albion bench were probably drifting towards when might be the moment to turn to Dwight Gayle, back on the bench after missing two matches through injury, but then, six minutes after the restart, came the goal that they had probably deserved.
Again, Leeds had themselves to blame, pressing high up the pitch in numbers but leaving themselves vulnerable to the counter, which came as their appeals for a foul on Kemar Roofe were waved away. The ball found its way to Rodriguez with Leeds still chasing back, with Robson-Kanu moving into space on the left. Rodriguez picked out his run and the Welsh striker delivered a fine finish, sliding the ball across Peacock-Farrell and in at the far post.
Robson-Kanu had a fine game, although he spoiled his performance slightly with a rather obvious attempt to deceive the referee into giving a penalty against Liam Cooper. Correctly, he was booked.
The test was on for Albion’s defence, set up with a back four on this occasion. Leeds pushed for a way to get themselves level but then Albion eased the pressure for themselves with a second goal on 67 minutes, again making Leeds pay for a mistake.
Matt Phillips, whose physicality in midfield had been a problem for the visitors throughout, dispossessed Klich inside the Leeds half, drove hard towards goal and beat Peacock-Farrell with a raking drive from 25 yards.
Thereafter, Leeds pretty much fell apart, conceding again in the 82nd and 83rd minutes, first when Adarabioyo picked up a poor Peacock-Farrell clearance and sent Barnes through the middle to sweep home, and again as Gayle, who had replaced Robson-Kanu for the last 10 minutes, showed off his audacious side by backheeling into the net after a Rodriguez shot had been blocked.
Hernandez headed a lovely goal for Leeds in stoppage time but it counted for nothing save to give the 2,500 visiting fans, who never wavered in their support, something to applaud.