In football, as in life, timing is everything. And it was the timing of two rather poor Mike Dean penalty decisions during Leeds United‘s tumultuous defeat at Oakwell this evening that may well have been the factor upon which the outcome of the game ultimately depended. Had Leeds gone in at half-time 2-0 up, with a penalty to add to Chris Wood’s bundled opener after Kyle Bartley got a Barnsley hand in his face at a corner, there could have been few complaints from a home side that looked to be under the cosh at the time. But, in the final analysis, the fragility of a 1-0 lead was exposed by a late first half smash and grab goal from the hosts – and you sensed then that the tide had turned decisively.
In the second half, Barnsley came out like a pack of ravenous hounds and punctured United’s rearguard twice in quick time in a dominant spell. Two great finishes left Leeds with what, in the end, proved to be too much to do. This always looked to be the case, even after Dean’s second shoddy call of the match, awarding Leeds a penalty from a good forty yards behind play, for a handball offence that was clearly miles outside the box. Chris Wood duly converted but, even with their hopes so fortunately boosted, United never really escaped the stranglehold Barnsley had put on them from the time of the equaliser. In the end, the injustices evened themselves out, allowing the better side over 95 minutes to enjoy a deserved victory.
What might have transpired had the hapless Dean got his calls the right way around is anybody’s guess – though it’s tempting to suppose a Leeds side two goals to the good would have taken some pegging back. As things were, there can be few complaints, and both sets of fans will be in agreement that Mr. Dean should go back to Premier League football and practice his dubious skills there.
For Leeds, defeat might just be a timely wake-up call and a reminder that the squad still needs a bit more strength in depth. It’s to be hoped that this will be addressed in the coming days, along with the pressing need to get back to winning ways on Wednesday against a Nottingham Forest side that should be ripe for the beating. United manager Garry Monk will be focusing already on that game, and the Whites should see it as a chance to start off on another positive run.
Lastly, it has to be said that Barnsley’s grit and attitude were as commendable as the quality of the goals they scored. Everyone knows how much beating Leeds means to the Tykes, and those victory celebrations will be sweet indeed. With Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday also flying high in the Championship, it’s turning out to be a good season for Yorkshire clubs. None of which is any comfort in defeat – but Leeds know there is stiff competition out there and it’s up to our heroes to step up to the plate now and reassert their authority.
That process can and must start on Wednesday. After a great run since December, we now expect nothing less.