Bamford seals stirring comeback win as Leeds cut Leicester’s lead to six points

<span>Patrick Bamford (left) and Georginio Rutter celebrate after Leeds’ victory against Leicester.</span><span>Photograph: George Wood/Getty Images</span>
Patrick Bamford (left) and Georginio Rutter celebrate after Leeds’ victory against Leicester.Photograph: George Wood/Getty Images

Not so long ago Leeds were a receding speck in Leicester’s rear-view mirror but, suddenly, Daniel Farke’s second-placed team are tailgating the Championship leaders.

A once seemingly unassailable gap has been cut to six points. That is far too close for comfort for Enzo Maresca and his players who will doubtless have headed back down the M1 cursing their inability to see out a game they dominated until the substitute full-back Connor Roberts equalised for Leeds in the 80th minute.

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Further goals from Archie Gray and Patrick Bamford, not to mention a fine performance on Georginio Rutter’s part, ultimately left Leicester looking distinctly mortal. Small wonder that an hour after the final whistle celebratory music boomed from the home dressing room.

“I feel very proud because we were in control for 80 minutes but very bad because we dropped points,” said Maresca, who took heart from superb performances from Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall and Ricardo Pereira as he reflected on a second straight defeat. “But with 12 games to go we are still top. We were never going to win this division by 10 or 15 points. The gap at the end will be tiny.”

As the thermometer dipped towards freezing point on a cold, clear West Yorkshire night, Farke’s players initially looked to be feeling the heat generated by rising expectations. For quite a while few home fans can have been overly confident of securing a ninth successive league victory.

“It’s a fairytale,” said the Leeds manager. “It’s priceless for the mood, the belief and the spirit. These nights are what football is all about.”

Coventry manager Mark Robins said winger Tatsuhiro Sakamoto suffered a "terrible injury" during his side's 3-0 home defeat to Preston. The 27-year-old landed heavily following a challenge by Andrew Hughes in the first half and was taken off the pitch on a stretcher.

Robins said: "Tatsu's got a terrible, terrible injury. I'm praying and hoping he's OK because that doesn't look good at all. They can't be clear, they're talking about a pelvic and spinal injury, so I'm just hoping he's OK."

The Coventry manager admitted his team were "bullied" from the first whistle to the last as they lost at home for just the second time this season. Emil Riis thumped a header home in the first minute and was involved heavily in Will Keane's 12th of the season before Bobby Thomas put through his own net after 38 minutes.

Robins said: "We got bullied. From minute one to minute 98 we got bullied. That's what I put it down to." PA Media

Granted Leeds should probably have taken an early lead when Joël Piroe lifted a shot wastefully over the bar after connecting with Wilfried Gnonto’s sublime back heel, but they struggled to cope with the speed and sharpness of their guests’ passing.

If Piroe will not relish viewing those replays which showed the unmarked, and ideally placed, Crysencio Summerville screaming for him to deliver a pass that never came before that miscue, his teammates are unlikely to want to watch reruns of their high press being stymied by Leicester’s contain and counter-attack approach.

Gray had begun as an inverted right-back but soon reverted to endeavouring to thwart Stephy Mavididi’s advances. One such visiting foray precipitated Illan Meslier tipping Patson Daka’s effort over the bar. From the resulting corner, delivered impeccably by Dewsbury-Hall and flicked on by Daka, Wout Faes headed Leicester in front.

Refusing to surrender, Leeds forced a ferocious tempo as the game turned thrillingly open. But for some wayward finishing, Gnonto could have celebrated a hat-trick by half-time. On one occasion the Italy forward destroyed what promised to be a magical moment by shifting the ball inexplicably on to his left foot when a quick swipe of the right boot would surely have beaten Mads Hermansen.

Yet although it took a fine block on Jannik Vestergaard’s part to deny Summerville and Rutter repeatedly destabilised Leicester’s defence, Maresca’s players never looked unnerved.

Indeed Leicester’s quick feet and even faster brains continued to pose Leeds plenty of awkward second-half questions, with Pereira and Dewsbury-Hall increasingly conjuring inviting attacking space.

As Farke’s team temporarily lost all semblance of balance and control, Meslier saved brilliantly from Mavididi. A second visiting goal seemed to beckon when Vestergaard headed a corner against the bar and Daka steered the rebound into the back of the net, but the striker saw his celebrations curtailed by a contentious offside ruling.

Endeavouring to recalibrate the power balance, Farke introduced Bamford, Dan James and Roberts in place of Piroe, Gnonto and the increasingly vulnerable Junior Firpo. Shortly after Daka missed an absolute sitter after being cleverly cued up by Pereira, Roberts changed the narrative.

After advancing from right-back, the newcomer found himself in the right place at the right time to score his first goal for Leeds, low and crisply beyond Hermansen after Rutter beat three markers.

Not to be upstaged, Gray promptly registered his maiden goal too. Watched by his beaming uncle, Eddie Gray, the 17-year-old evaded Leicester’s keeper courtesy of a fine left-footed drive that took a heavy deflection off Faes before turning Elland Road ecstatic.

When Bamford’s well-placed knee steered James’s stoppage-time free-kick home, a disbelieving Maresca’s misery was complete as Farke repeatedly punched the air.

“I always felt Patrick would be involved in a goal and he was in the right place again,” Farke said. “He’s a natural finisher, who is blessed with a gift.”