Raphinha’s injury-time penalty secured a potentially priceless Premier League victory for Leeds United against Crystal Palace on a night when it looked as though their profligacy in front of goal without Patrick Bamford would come back to haunt them once again. Marcelo Bielsa’s side had dominated the majority of this contest against a Palace side, who could have gone seventh with a win of their own.
But chance after chance came and went without the deadlock being broken, and it looked as though Bielsa and Leeds would have to settle for a point. That was before Cheikhou Kouyaté handled in the Palace area, and Raphinha, Leeds’ best player on the night, coolly sent Vicente Guaita the wrong way to move Leeds further clear of the bottom three.
There was certainly no shortage of endeavour from the hosts in the early exchanges. Leeds dominated possession and had the better of the chances but, perhaps symptomatic of their season to date, could not capitalise on their early pressure. The pick of the best moments came when a crisp low ball across goal from Stuart Dallas was cleared by Joel Ward just as it looked certain Tyler Roberts would pounce.
Leeds kept coming, with Adam Forshaw and Kalvin Phillips firing wide of Guaita’s goal. But as the half wore on, Palace began to find their feet, in particular Jordan Ayew, whose pace began to cause Pascal Struijk and Liam Cooper real problems. Ayew believed he had a claim for a penalty when Struijk made contact with the forward in the box, but Kevin Friend waved the calls away.
However, that moment was a precursor for further Palace pressure. Jeffrey Schlupp then fired wide before a dangerous run towards the Leeds box by Wilfried Zaha was halted. Suddenly, the momentum was with the visitors, but the home side did well to stand their ground and hold firm.
Yet Leeds’ profligacy in front of goal was summed up best when a free-kick in a promising position was comfortably put over the bar by Raphinha as half-time approached. Neither side managed to craft any further clearcut chances before the interval, however, the firepower Palace’s frontline possessed suggested they were the more likely of the two sides to break the deadlock after half-time, with the Elland Road crowd growing frustrated after a bright start faded.
But they were stirred back into life once again as the hour mark approached, with the best chance of the game falling the way of Leeds. Bielsa had introduced Junior Firpo and Rodrigo at half-time to try to tip the balance back in favour of the home side, and it was the latter of those two substitutes who should have put Bielsa’s side ahead.
A magnificent crossfield ball from Raphinha freed Dan James, who squared for Rodrigo. He could only prod wide under pressure from Guaita, but the balance of power had shifted firmly back in favour of Leeds, as Forshaw then fired a shot which squirted into Guaita’s path. But, just as in the first half, a barrage of pressure from the home side went unconverted. It prompted Patrick Vieira to send for Christian Benteke to try find an opening goal which, by now, was looking as though it would be decisive.
The Belgian should have taken a glorious opportunity to put the visitors in front five minutes after coming on, but he somehow headed a Zaha cross wide. Then, just as it looked as though the game would fizzle out into a goalless draw, Kouyaté handled, VAR confirmed the decision, and Raphinha did the rest to send Elland Road delirious. Who knows how big that moment could be for both these sides come May.