Five-star Leeds start­ing to be­lieve Premier League ex­ile may be over

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport | Football - By Luke Ed­wards

You have to ad­mire Leeds United, not only be­cause they are fun to watch, but be­cause they might be the only club in the coun­try who could have come up with a way to make home games in­tim­i­dat­ing for the op­po­si­tion dur­ing lock­down.

Leeds de­serve pro­mo­tion to the Premier League for the class of foot­ball, the qual­ity of their play­ers, the mag­nif­i­cence of their man­ager, Marcelo Bielsa, and the pas­sion and size of their fan base.

They have waited 16 years for their re­turn and this rout of Stoke City, re­stored their six­point lead over third-placed Brent­ford in the Cham­pi­onship, with four games left to play.

With the usu­ally crammed stands al­most empty, those al­lowed into El­land Road still made plenty of noise. Whether it was the smartly dressed men and women spread out in the direc­tors’ box, the sub­sti­tutes, the coach­ing staff or the stew­ards, ev­ery de­ci­sion was con­tested, ev­ery heavy chal­lenge by a Stoke player protested against, ev­ery Leeds at­tack­ing move ap­plauded.

Even when they do not have their sup­port­ers with them, Leeds in­tend to march on to­gether, even if the noise comes from 30 peo­ple rather than 30,000.

Those in at­ten­dance got what they came for, a com­mand­ing dis­play from Bielsa’s team. Stoke were out­played and out­classed.

De­nied the lead when Pa­trick Bam­ford and Tyler Roberts both had shots cleared off the line in the space of a few sec­onds, by James McClean and Danny Batth, they went ahead just be­fore half time through Ma­teusz Klich’s penalty

Turn­ing point: Ma­teusz Klich cel­e­brates scor­ing Leeds’ open­ing goal against Stoke from the penalty spot af­ter a need­less tackle from Tommy Smith took Helder Costa down. If there was any anx­i­ety that re­moved it and Leeds moved through the gears af­ter the break, Costa scor­ing his first goal since his loan spell from Wolves turned into a £16 mil­lion per­ma­nent move with a clever fin­ish from a sen­sa­tional through ball from Stu­art Dal­las. The third came from the cap­tain, Liam Cooper, the cen­tre-back who has kept every­one calm and fo­cused be­hind the scenes when so many other Leeds teams have buck­led un­der pres­sure. It was a good fin­ish too, as he pulled into space be­fore squeez­ing a first-time shot in via the in­side of the near post from Pablo Her­nan­dez’s pull back. The Spa­niard scored the fourth him­self, with a cool fin­ish from the edge of the area and Stoke’s play­ers looked like they wanted it all to end long be­fore Bam­ford scored Leeds’ fifth. A de­lighted Bielsa knows there are still chal­lenges ahead, but said: “It was dif­fi­cult for us to im­pose our­selves in the first half, but the penalty helped us. Af­ter we scored early in the sec­ond half it made it eas­ier for us.”

Bielsa’s op­po­site num­ber Michael O’Neill must rouse his side in their fight to avoid the drop. He said: “They were ex­cel­lent, but these aren’t the types of games that will de­cide whether we stay up. Leeds are a long way from where we are.

“So we have just got to make that sure we are ready for the fi­nal four games.”

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