Leeds go back top and Bielsa wants gap to grow

Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - FOOTBALL - Richard Sut­cliffe AT DW STA­DIUM Email: richard.sut­cliffe@ypn.co.uk Twit­ter: @RSootyYPS­port

A COM­BI­NA­TION of road­works and the search for a joyrider who had fled a crash on the ap­proach to the DW Sta­dium meant the Leeds United team bus ar­rived late yes­ter­day lunchtime.

The mis­cre­ant did not re­main a fugi­tive from jus­tice for long, his hap­less at­tempts at es­cape be­ing rather un­der­mined by seek­ing refuge in one of the small tun­nels that con­nect the River Dou­glas to an over­flow chan­nel run­ning be­sides Wi­gan Ath­letic’s home of 21 years.

In the end fire­fight­ers had to un­bolt a cover to the tun­nel and, with the air am­bu­lance stood nearby, he was led away.

It was an im­pres­sive dis­play of team-work from all three emer­gency ser­vices that Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds duly em­u­lated just a few hours later to move back to the sum­mit of the Cham­pi­onship.

Against a Wi­gan side pre­vi­ously un­beaten on home soil this sea­son, United over­came fall­ing be­hind in­side six min­utes to claim a de­served three points.

Sev­eral in white caught the eye. Barry Dou­glas, on his re­turn af­ter a four-game ab­sence through in­jury, brought a touch of class to United’s left flank.

Pablo Her­nan­dez and Ke­mar Roofe, the two goalscor­ers, were also lively, but what most im­pressed about Leeds was just how hard the vis­i­tors worked for each other.

If ei­ther Liam Cooper or Pon­tus Jans­son got into trou­ble the other would in­vari­ably be on hand to help out.

If that did not prove pos­si­ble Kalvin Phillips, ef­fec­tively op­er­at­ing as a third cen­tre-back, was ready to step in.

It was a sim­i­lar story in mid­field with Adam Forshaw seem­ingly cov­er­ing ev­ery blade of glass to pro­vide the plat­form for such as Her­nan­dez, Ma­teusz Klich and Ezg­jan Alioski to get for­ward in sup­port of lone front­man Roofe.

Add United’s in­nate abil­ity to find a team-mate with a pin­point pass even when un­der im­mense pres­sure amid a sea of blue shirts to their un­doubted work ethic and Bielsa had ev­ery right to be sat­is­fied at the fi­nal whis­tle.

“The win was very im­por­tant,” said the Ar­gen­tinian.

“We only drew at home (to Not­ting­ham For­est) in our last game so we needed to win to achieve the pace we need.

“The team was calm. The team showed con­sis­tency to im­pose our style. If you look at the as­pect of the game – the pos­ses­sion, chances con­ceded to the op­po­nent and chances we had – we were able to play our foot­ball and im­pose our style.”

Yes­ter­day was the fourth time Leeds have moved top of the Cham­pi­onship. Bielsa ad­mits con­sis­tency will be key to stay­ing there this time.

He added: “There is a statis­tic that says if we do not take into ac­count the first few games we are ranked 10th. We have to change this.

“In or­der to be first in the Cham­pi­onship we have to make a dif­fer­ence be­tween us and the other teams. We did that at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son, but then stopped do­ing it. If we want (to stay top) we have to show reg­u­lar­ity in gain­ing points.”

Meet­ings be­tween Leeds and Wi­gan have been few and far be­tween down the years. This was just their 12th clash, but there was an edge to pro­ceed­ings more usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with ri­val­ries of much longer stand­ing.

This much be­came clear in the open­ing ex­changes as Joe Garner barged into Liam Cooper and then the United cap­tain re­turned fire with ex­tras just mo­ments later.

A free-kick was rightly awarded and Reece James pun­ished Cooper with a quite ex­quis­ite curled ef­fort from 25 yards that goal­keeper Bai­ley Pea­cock-Far­rell only saw late.

Leeds’s re­sponse was im­pres­sively swift. Dou­glas, col­lect­ing the ball out wide just three min­utes later, spot­ted a run from Klich long be­fore Wi­gan, and Dar­ron Gib­son in par­tic­u­lar, had wo­ken up to the dan­ger.

Klich, by now en­joy­ing yards of space, had time to look up be­fore pick­ing out Her­nan­dez. He did the rest with a first time fin- ish that Chris­tian Wal­ton had no hope of keep­ing out.

Where the Wi­gan goal­keeper was blame-free in that in­stance, how­ever, there was no such ex­cuse for United’s sec­ond goal just 39 sec­onds into the sec­ond half.

As a tame cross from Her­nan­dez headed to­wards Wal­ton there ap­peared lit­tle dan­ger.

In­ex­pli­ca­bly, though, he failed to col­lect. Roofe, left with the eas­i­est chance of the sea­son, duly put the ball into the empty net.

United’s win­ner may have had an el­e­ment of luck, but the win was any­thing but for­tu­nate with Bielsa’s side cre­at­ing enough chances to have put the game to bed even with­out the help­ing hand from Wal­ton. Her­nan­dez struck a post late on, and Jamie Shack­le­ton should have done bet­ter with the re­bound.

Roofe, Klich and Her­nan­dez also had chances in the sec­ond half whereas Wi­gan’s one threat­en­ing mo­ment of note came when sub­sti­tute Cal­lum McMana­man stepped in­side a chal- lenge five min­utes from time only to then bal­loon a shot over.

It had been a sim­i­lar story in the open­ing 45 min­utes with most of the threat com­ing from the vis­i­tors, Wal­ton twice dis­play­ing his agility to deny, first, Forshaw and then Alioski’s floated cross-cum-shot. Such had been United’s dom­i­nance, in fact, even Lat­ics man­ager Paul Cook had no quarrel with the re­sult.

“Leeds are an ex­cel­lent side,” he said. “Let’s make no bones about that. Was it a de­served vic­tory for them? Peo­ple will prob­a­bly say it was.

“Leeds have the qual­ity that shone out in the game. They will go very close this year.”

PIC­TURES: SI­MON HULME

SUM­MIT MEET­ING: Ke­mar Roofe, top right, beams af­ter scor­ing, above right, what proved to be Leeds United’s win­ning goal against Wi­gan Ath­letic. In­set, Pablo Her­nan­dez runs away to cel­e­brate af­ter equal­is­ing for the vis­i­tors.

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