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