Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - FRONT PAGE - Richard Sut­cliffe richard.sut­cliffe@ypn.co.uk @RSootyYPS­port

CHRIS WILDER has backed Sh­effield United to con­tinue de­fy­ing the odds in the Cham­pi­onship pro­mo­tion race de­spite suf­fer­ing a set­back against ri­vals Leeds United.

The Blades’ hopes of reach­ing the Premier League suf­fered a blow when Leeds be­came the first team to win at Bra­mall Lane since the open­ing day of the cam­paign.

Pablo Her­nan­dez net­ted the only goal of a keenly-fought con­test fol­low­ing a calami­tous mis­take by loa­nee goal­keeper Dean Hen­der­son to leave Wilder in a frus­trated mood at the fi­nal whis­tle.

“We should not be any­where near,” said Wilder when asked about his side’s pro­mo­tion prospects. “Se­ri­ously, we should not be any­where near. We are get­ting the max­i­mum amount from the play­ers, the ab­so­lute max­i­mum. And they are giv­ing the max­i­mum for this foot­ball club.

“But we should not be any­where near and we should not have been any­where near it last sea­son (when United fin­ished 10th), ei­ther.

“It so winds me up when peo­ple say we fell away after Christ­mas. We took it to the 45th game last sea­son and we will try to take it fur­ther this time.

“We play in a way that suits us. I am not say­ing we have rein­vented the wheel or any­thing like that. But we cause the op­po­si­tion prob­lems.

“I did not want Leeds to come here and do what they have done for the ma­jor­ity of the sea­son, whereby they have been al­lowed to do what­ever they want. We wanted to give Leeds prob­lems to solve and if they solved them, fair enough.

“I do not think it was us on the back foot for the ma­jor­ity of the game. I do not think it was them on the back foot for the ma­jor­ity of the game. Just a well-con­tested game, which is what you want.

“There were con­trast­ing shapes and they had a de­cent pe­riod mid­way through the sec­ond half but there were a lot of pe­ri­ods when we were re­ally good. In the end, it was de­cided by an in­di­vid­ual mis­take.”

United slipped to sixth in the ta­ble cour­tesy of a first de­feat to Leeds on home soil since 1992.

Wilder added: “I will back my team and we will give it a real good go. Sh­effield United want to see their sup­port­ers walk in the front door and go out of the front door. I thought we did that against Leeds. We should not be any­where near but we are.

“Why are we near? It is just sim­ple things like run­ning around, mak­ing tack­les and win­ning head­ers. We are work­ing hard and I think we have caused prob­lems for a big side.”

Her­nan­dez’s sev­enth goal of the sea­son took Leeds back to the sum­mit for a cou­ple of hours be­fore Nor­wich City re­claimed top spot by com­ing from be­hind to beat Rother­ham United at Car­row Road.

It was a third con­sec­u­tive vic­tory for Marcelo Bielsa’s men, who lost cap­tain Liam Cooper to a knee in­jury in­side the open­ing quar­ter that will be as­sessed in the com­ing days.

Asked about re­turn­ing to the top, al­beit briefly, Leeds’s head coach said: “It is not con­ve­nient to make any com­par­isons with the other teams at this mo­ment of the sea­son be­cause we are not sure the top-six now will be the same at the end of the sea­son.

“We faced a se­ri­ous op­po­nent. It was hard for us to find a so­lu­tion against Sh­effield. They play through the num­ber ‘16’ (Oliver Nor­wood). They have move­ment and the ‘17’ (David McGoldrick) dropped back, (while) the con­tri­bu­tion of the ‘6’ (Chris Basham) cre­ated prob­lems that took us time to solve. Not be­cause we did not know these fea­tures of the team, but be­cause our plans did not work re­gard­ing these three play­ers.

“Hav­ing said that, I still think we had bet­ter posses­sion than the op­po­nent and more chances to score. But there are two ac­tions in the game, the one be­fore our goal and then when the op­po­nent (Conor Wash­ing­ton) shot at the cross­bar.

“If the op­po­nent did not make a mis­take for the goal and also scored that shot at the end against the bar, it would have been dif­fer­ent. But it is al­ways beau­ti­ful to win and I am al­ways happy when I win.”

As for Wilder, he was left to rue sev­eral missed chances with Bai­ley Pea­cock-Far­rell sav­ing twice from McGoldrick. Wash­ing­ton also struck the bar late on, while Billy Sharp’s usual killer in­stinct against Leeds – the striker had net­ted six times in his pre­vi­ous four meet­ings with the El­land Road club be­fore the week­end – was ab­sent as he headed over just be­fore the in­ter­val.

“We prob­a­bly should have scored just be­fore half-time but we did not,” said the Blades man­ager, whose side had last been beaten on home soil by Swansea City on the open­ing day. “And then a mis­take costs us.

“No-one, though, con­nected with this foot­ball club can be dis­ap­pointed with what the boys are do­ing.”

A FIRST vic­tory for Leeds United at Bra­mall Lane since the mo­men­tous day the League ti­tle was won un­der Howard Wilkin­son and once again Sh­effield United gifted their ri­vals from up the M1 all three points.

For Brian Gayle and the late Mel Rees 26 years ago, read record sign­ing John Egan and Dean Hen­der­son this time around as an­other mix-up be­tween cen­tre­half and goal­keeper proved costly for the Blades.

Egan com­mit­ted the first er­ror, his pass back with just eight min­utes re­main­ing be­ing so hard and so loose that Hen­der­son was forced un­nec­es­sar­ily wide.

The loa­nee goal­keeper, who up to that point had been in un­beat­able form, then com­pounded Egan’s er­ror by mak­ing an even big­ger one of his own by at­tempt­ing a first-time pass to Jack O’Con­nell.

His ex­e­cu­tion was woe­ful and the ball went straight to Jack Clarke. Just 18 years old and mak­ing just his fifth ap­pear­ance from the bench, the winger dis­played ma­tu­rity beyond his years by tak­ing a touch, steady­ing him­self and then rolling a pass to Pablo Her­nan­dez as Hen­der­son dived feet-first at the teenager in a des­per­ate at­tempt to re­trieve the sit­u­a­tion.

Leeds’ Span­ish play­maker did the rest by tap­ping into an un­guarded net and the West Rid­ing club had ended their long wait for a win in S2 at the ninth at­tempt.

Com­pared to Gayle head­ing over Rees and into his own net back in 1992 to seal a 3-2 tri­umph for Leeds that ul­ti­mately brought a third ti­tle to El­land Road, the claim­ing of three Cham­pi­onship points by Marcelo Bielsa’s men has to be con­sid­ered de­cid­edly small beer.

But what Her­nan­dez’s late win­ner did do is un­der­line how se­ri­ously Leeds have to be taken in their quest to re­turn to the Premier League after a 15-year ab­sence.

For the third time in eight days, Bielsa’s men had been be­low par and yet this took their points tally in that pe­riod to a max­i­mum nine. That this lat­est vic­tory came on an af­ter­noon when cap­tain Liam Cooper be­came the lat­est key player to be lost to in­jury sug­gests they pos­sess the men­tal for­ti­tude to cope with the bat­tle of en­durance that is a Cham­pi­onship cam­paign.

“It is im­por­tant to stay in this po­si­tion,” said Her­nan­dez, whose 82nd-minute strike briefly sent Leeds back to the sum­mit only for Nor­wich City to later re­claim top spot with a home vic­tory over Rother­ham United.

“The next month is very im­por­tant for us be­cause we have a lot of games and the gap is so small be­tween the first six or seven teams. If you lose two or three games in a row, you can drop back to sixth or sev­enth po­si­tion.

“The goal was not the best shot in my life. But, im­por­tantly, we got the three points. We now have three wins in a row and we must keep the same spirit and style to keep that run go­ing.”

Leeds’ de­light at the fi­nal whis­tle was in stark con­trast to the frus­tra­tion felt else­where at the Lane.

Chris Wilder’s Blades play­ers headed to Lon­don for their Christ­mas night out hav­ing con­trib­uted fully to a derby that, while never threat­en­ing to match those clas­sic meet­ings of the past, had plenty go­ing on to keep the 25,479 crowd en­grossed.

The hosts had just as many chances as Leeds. Hen­der­son was just as busy in the home goal as Bai­ley Pea­cock-Far­rell, while this was the first time this sea­son that Bielsa’s side had less than 50 per cent posses­sion in a game.

All that, how­ever, counted for noth­ing as a first home de­feat since the open­ing day of the sea­son saw United slip a place to sixth.

Not that David McGoldrick, twice de­nied by won­der­ful saves from Pea­cock-Far­rell, was un­duly dis­heart­ened at the end of an af­ter­noon that, by rights, should have brought the hosts a share of the spoils.

“On our day we can beat any­one,” said the striker. “And if there is a pos­i­tive to take, it is that we were the bet­ter team in a topof-the-ta­ble clash.

“If we had scored first, we would have gone on and won the game. There were big mo­ments. I had some. Def­i­nitely one in the sec­ond half. Billy (Sharp) had a big mo­ment as well.

“The goal we con­ceded was sloppy. ‘Hendo’ is young – and he is a good goal­keeper. It is just one of those things.

“We have to stay pos­i­tive. There is a long way to go and we have noth­ing to fear.”

McGoldrick’s two “big mo­ments” came in each half. The first on 10 min­utes saw the striker break from in­side his own half be­fore drilling a low shot that Pea­cock-Far­rell did very well to turn around the post.

The Leeds goal­keeper proved McGoldrick’s equal once again just after the hour by block­ing a shot with his legs after a mis­take by Aapo Halme had put Leeds in grave dan­ger on the edge of their penalty area.

In be­tween, Sharp, nor­mally so deadly against his old club, spurned a won­der­ful op­por­tuni- ty by head­ing wide when found six yards out just be­fore the in­ter­val. Later, Conor Wash­ing­ton was un­lucky to see his over­head kick strike the cross­bar deep into stop­page time.

Bielsa’s side also had their fair share of open­ings. Halme brought a smart stop from Hen­der­son, who also dealt ad­mirably with ef­forts from Clarke and Ma­teusz Klich be­fore Ke­mar Roofe headed ag­o­nis­ingly wide.

That seemed to be that un­til Her­nan­dez pun­ished Hen­der­son to claim a vic­tory whose true value may not be re­alised un­til the end of a sea­son in which these York­shire ri­vals seem cer­tain to go the dis­tance.

CHRIS WILDER: Says his play­ers are giv­ing their max­i­mum and will con­tinue to do so.


DERBY JOY: Leeds United striker Pablo Her­nan­dez, top, cel­e­brate his win­ning goal against Sh­effield United.Left, Ke­mar Roofe tus­sles with Blades’ John Egan. Right, David McGoldrick is again de­nied by Leeds goal­keeper Bai­ley Pea­cock-Far­rell.

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