IT has been a year-long wait between midweek Championship victories for Leeds United – but both have borne the same emotional imprint.
Twelve months ago, a following of 3,700 Whites supporters made the trip to Nottingham Forest to see United honour the late Gary Speed in the best possible way by virtue of a 4-0 victory, just a few days after his untimely passing.
In 10 subsequent league midweek matches, United were not able to celebrate victory and have endured some embarrassing and awful nights.
Redemption was finally at hand last night on another evening when Speed was central to everybody’s thoughts on the first anniversary of his tragic death.
His former club delivered, albeit not quite with the same panache against Leciester as they did against their East Midlands rivals Forest.
But victories come in all shapes and sizes and the win over the Foxes, courtesy of a third-minute penalty from Luciano Becchio, felt pretty sweet as United remembered Speedo.
It was Leeds’s first midweek league victory at Elland Road since August 2011 when they beat Hull City, then managed by current Leicester boss Nigel Pearson and sealed a momentum-filled week for the club, now with a fair bit of wind in their sails ahead of Saturday’s derby at Huddersfield Town.
Generous applause from the Kop followed a medley of Speed’s magic moments on the giant video screen ahead of the crowd saluting, as one, the midfielder in 60 emotion-packed seconds in a poignant prelude to kick-off.
And it was not long before most were back on their feet hailing a United opener from the spot courtesy of some slapdash defending from Jeffrey Schlupp, hardly befitting of a back four which possessed the highest number of Championship clean sheets, eight.
Recently converted from front to back by Foxes boss Pearson, Schlupp showed he is the proverbial work in progress defensively, displaying the impetuosity of youth to trip fellow teenager Sam Byram after just 96 seconds.
Becchio obligingly tucked away the early festive gift for his 12th goal of the campaign, sending former Whites goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel the wrong way.
Leeds manager Neil Warnock may have tipped Leicester to be champions in his pre-match musings, but they looked nothing like a side dining at the top end of the table for most of the first half, punctuated by an 11th-minute tribute to Speed.
The rendition was going strong when a raid, in comparative isolation, arrived and Martyn Waghorn was fouled by Tom Lees, perilously close to the box, with Ben Marshall’s meaty free-kick blocked by David Norris.
It was United who were the more assertive and composed side and only a tremendous one-handed tip-over from Schmeichel denied the hosts a second goal on 27 minutes following an instinctive half-volley from Saturday’s goal hero Paul Green following Becchio’s cross.
Leicester’s one moment of first-half class arrived six minutes later when a superb cross from Marshall was helped on by Jamie Vardy, with Waghorn showing tremendous technique to fire a dipping angled volley, which clipped the woodwork.
By and large, it was a half which United controlled, with only a great saving tackle from Richie De Laet stopping Jerome Thomas from pulling the trigger following El-Hadji Diouf’s clever assist.
Leicester showed more purpose on the restart but little penetration and Pearson, in a bid to pep up his side, made a double substitution on 57 minutes, throwing on Marko Futacs and Anthony Knockaert for Vardy and Marshall.
The latter, who scored two sublime strikes in a 2-0 victory at Huddersfield earlier in the autumn, soon tested the reactions of home goalkeeper Paddy Kenny, the precursor to the visitors’ most sustained cameo of pressure.
Such was Warnock’s concern that he soon threw on a defensive midfielder in Michael Brown for Thomas in an attempt to regain control back in the engine room with Leicester threatening to lay siege.
As it was, the veteran almost played a decisive hand at the other end shortly after his entrance when he shot narrowly wide as United sought a relieving second goal.
Futacs then saw a piledriving shot flash wide after latching onto a rare defensive mistake from Byram before Pearson played his final card by replacing Waghorn with Jesse Lingard, handed an attacking brief along with Knockaert to support fellow substitute Futacs.
While Leicester boasted plenty of possession, United competed ferociously to protect their advantage in a high-energy shift, with their industry and unstinting commitment raucously recognised by the United fans on a evening when they remembered a thoroughly committed son in Speed.
An everyman in a footballing sense who recognised that talent was nothing without graft, it was a victory that the revered Welshman and adopted son of Leeds would have appreciated fully.
Leeds United: Kenny; Byram, Lees, Tate, Peltier; Green, Norris, Tonge, Thomas (Brown 61); Diouf, Becchio. Unused substitutes: Ashdown, Drury, White, Gray, Hall, McCormack.
Leicester City: Schmeichel; de Laet, Morgan, Whitbread, Schlupp; Marshall (Knockaert 57), Drinkwater, King, Dyer; Vardy (Futacs 57), Waghorn. Unused substitutes: Logan, Konchesky, James, Moore, Lingard.
Referee: M Russell (Herts).
Reports, results and tables: Page 22.