If Leeds United are to stop the rot and avoid relegation this season, maybe they will look back on the final 10 minutes at the Etihad Stadium as a turning point.
Two-nil down after 27 minutes away to the Premier League champions and Treble hunters Manchester City, Leeds could have imploded. It has certainly happened enough of late.
But having dug in and rode their luck on occasions, Sam Allardyce’s side responded to Ilkay Gundogan’s penalty miss by grabbing a goal back through Rodrigo and, while a dramatic late equalizer ultimately proved elusive, the scenes at the final whistle suggested there is some fight and unity left in them yet.
As soon as the game was over, Karl Robinson, Allardyce’s assistant, was on the pitch instructing Leeds’ players and staff to come together in a huddle before they marched over in unison to their supporters and, one by one, players began ripping off their shirts and throwing them to the crowd. First Rodrigo, then Luke Ayling, then Jack Harrison until, by the end, almost half the squad exited the field bare-chested. The fans showed their appreciation back.
It was a very different scene to last Monday morning when Leeds players, beaten 4-1 by Bournemouth the day before, a defeat that cost Javi Garcia his job and saw Allardyce parachuted in, failed to acknowledge the fans as they left the team hotel.
Allardyce and Robinson, it is clear, recognized that was an issue that had to be addressed and, while their predicament remains precarious, there were some seeds of hope against City as they head into their final three games against Newcastle United, West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur.
“Even though my position is head coach, I am a manager and my biggest strength is making people feel better – man-management,” said Allardyce, whose decision to drop first-choice goalkeeper Illan Meslier and start Joel Robles paid off. “That has nothing to do with coaching and if you haven’t got that skill, you won’t make people play better.”
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