Rudderless Leeds beaten again as Bournemouth push towards safety
Leeds’ relegation fears increased after Jefferson Lerma’s double helped Bournemouth virtually secure their own safety with a vital 4-1 home win.
The Cherries moved level with Chelsea on 39 points and 10 clear of the bottom three after Lerma’s brace was backed up by second-half strikes from Dominic Solanke and Antoine Semenyo.
It all but confirms Bournemouth will be a Premier League club next season and continues Gary O’Neil’s excellent debut campaign in the managerial hotseat.
For Leeds it is a very different story with Patrick Bamford’s first-half goal a mere consolation for Javi Gracia’s side, who remain 16th but are outside of the relegation zone by one point and face Manchester City and Newcastle during the next fortnight.
All eyes pre-match were on Gracia’s starting line-up and he listened to the vociferous calls from the Leeds faithful to start Willy Gnonto, but went with wing-backs for the first time and asked Jack Harrison to fill in on the left.
The visitors thought they had won a spot-kick after only four minutes when Bamford’s pass hit the hand of Matias Vina.
VAR quickly intervened after Christopher Kavanagh pointed to the spot and decided the incident took place outside the penalty area.
Marc Roca’s resulting free-kick was well saved by Neto but Leeds threatened again soon after when Crysencio Summerville got in down the right and teed up Harrison, who saw his effort blocked by Bournemouth defender Smith.
Gracia showed his frustration and the hosts eventually started to get going having won at Southampton on Thursday night.
Dango Ouattara, recalled in place of the injured Marcus Tavernier, saw a shot blocked by Cooper after he cut inside from the right side but Leeds did not heed that warning with the opener arriving after 20 minutes.
Solanke was next to get in down Leeds’ left and while Cooper thwarted Philip Billing’s effort, Lerma was first to the follow up and curled home sumptuously from 18-yards.
Lerma’s fourth goal of the campaign was quickly followed by another.
It was a moment to forget for under-fire Illan Meslier, who flapped at Ryan Christie’s corner and saw Lerma smash home from close-range to make it 2-0 in the 24th-minute.
Leeds and Gracia, having declared this a must-win fixture, were shell-shocked but a lifeline was provided eight minutes later.
Gnonto’s floated cross from the left was met by the unmarked Bamford, who powered home a header to partly make up for his late miss against Leicester in midweek.
One positive was quickly followed by a negative for the away side with captain Cooper forced off injured and Max Wober introduced.
Luke Ayling brought a action-packed first half to an end by blazing over from a tight angle and Leeds continued to push for a leveller after the break.
Summerville had a shot blocked before Weston McKennie volleyed over from Harrison’s free kick.
The next chance went to the influential Gnonto, but the Italian headed wide under pressure after Ayling had sent Harrison’s cross back across goal.
Bournemouth boss O’Neil had seen enough and made a double substitution just past the hour mark before just like in the first half Leeds were hit with a sucker-punch.
With their first attack of the second period, the Cherries made it 3-1 after Ouattara ran off Rasmus Kristensen and teed up Solanke, who took a touch and rifled home his sixth goal of the season after Robin Koch failed to clear.
Even before VAR confirmed Ouattara had been offside the Leeds away support chanted for sporting director Victor Orta to leave and the board to go with their relegation concerns increasing.
Bournemouth captain Neto was forced to deny Roca’s low strike soon after and made a fine double save from Koch and Gnonto in the 72nd-minute but Gracia watched his side concede again when Semenyo’s weak effort went through Meslier in stoppage-time to make it a fourth defeat in five games.