‘SIGN HIM UP,’ implored the Gelderd End shortly after Leeds United had broken the deadlock through Kyle Bartley in what up to then had been a derby that was doing anything but follow the form book.
It wasn’t obvious if the loanee from Swansea City was the subject of the chant or Pontus Jansson, who at the time was flat out in the Rotherham United penalty area receiving treatment following a clash of heads during the melee that Bartley had risen above to put the hosts ahead.
Regardless of who the song was intended for, what is surely beyond doubt is how pivotal the defensive duo have become to Leeds. Quite simply, Bartley and Jansson are the rock on which United’s burgeoning promotion bid is built upon.
Chris Wood may be among the Championship’s leading scorers, his double against the Millers taking his tally to 13 for the season.
Kemar Roofe may also be showing the sort of form that persuaded Garry Monk to spend £3m to prise the midfielder away from Oxford United, and Pablo Hernandez the artistry that is capable of unlocking any defence.
But the partnership between Bartley and Jansson is what has most transformed a season that, back in late August, was shaping up to be a likely relegation scrap due to a porous Leeds backline that had conceded nine goals in the opening five league games.
Along with Luke Ayling, a bargain £750,000 purchase from Bristol City, and either Charlie Taylor or Gaetano Berardi at left-back, the duo have made United one of the stingiest defences in the second tier.
Statistics may, of course, be twisted to suit any argument but the 13 goals that Leeds have conceded in 18 games when Bartley has partnered Jansson speaks volumes, as does the eight clean sheets.
No wonder the Elland Road faithful are so keen for the pair’s stays in Yorkshire to be made permanent now the January window is open.
“Internally the club will do everything they can with all these players at the right time,” said Monk, who expects Hernandez to become a permanent addition in the coming days.
“I am sure it will be taken care of. You can see how committed they all are and I don’t envisage anything to be a problem.”
United’s ninth victory in 12 games was enough to further cement their place in the play-offs, the gap between Monk’s men and seventh-placed Derby County now standing at five points.
It was also their joint highest winning margin of the season thanks to Wood’s double and Bartley’s fourth goal in a United shirt.
What the win wasn’t, however, was anywhere near as comfortable as the final score suggests. For 45 minutes, Rotherham were the better side. Had the Millers possessed a striker with Wood’s predatory instinct then the result could have been very different.
Tom Adeyemi and the otherwise excellent Izzy Brown were the guilty men in front of goal. First, Adeyemi fired against a post from close range when it seemed easier to score after Rob Green had palmed Anthony Forde’s free-kick in his direction.
Then, after Darnell Fisher had intelligently picked out the unmarked Brown 10 yards out, the Millers loanee wastefully shot high and wide with the Leeds goal at his mercy.
In contrast to the enterprising visitors, Leeds had offered little threat going forward in the first half. Considering Monk had deployed his most attack-minded starting XI of the season with Roofe joining Wood up front and only Liam Bridcutt anchoring a midfield dripping with attacking intent, this lack of potency was a surprise.
Monk changed things at half-time, bringing Ronaldo Vieira on and re-jigging the formation. His reward was a much improved display and a winning start to 2017.
Bartley broke the deadlock just 101 seconds after the restart with a bullet header from a Hernandez corner.
Wood doubled the hosts’ advantage just before the hour, bringing a floated cross down on his chest before firing beyond Lewis Price.
Once two goals behind, Rotherham were resigned to defeat and Berardi was afforded sufficient space to burst into the penalty area before drilling a shot against the post.
A third goal came when Wood netted his second from a delightful Roofe cross and there was still time for Hernandez to fire against the post before the final whistle sounded to the home fans chanting their belief that Leeds are going up.
Securing the futures of Bartley and Jansson is surely crucial if that is to become reality.
Leeds United: Green; Ayling, Bartley, Jansson, Berardi; Bridcutt; Sacko (Vieira 46), Hernandez, Doukara (Dallas 74); Roofe, Wood (Antonsson 82). Unused substitutes: Silvestri, Cooper, Phillips, Denton.
Rotherham United: Price; Fisher, Broadfoot (Wood 84), Belaid, Mattock; Forde (Taylor 70), Frecklington, Adeyemi, Brown, Newell (Vaulks 76); Ward. Unused substitutes: Odemwingie, Halford, Blackstock, Bilboe.
Referee: S Martin (Staffordshire).