What Leeds United will do to recover in time for Rotherham derby

Leeds United players Marcus Antonsson, Souleymane Doukara, Hadi Sacko and Kemar Roofe wearing T-shirts in memory of Gary Speed.
Leeds United players Marcus Antonsson, Souleymane Doukara, Hadi Sacko and Kemar Roofe wearing T-shirts in memory of Gary Speed.
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IT IS the week of thanksgiving in one part of the world, but the blessings were rather mixed for Leeds United.

The sight of a packed out Elland Road and a rewind to times when this sort of esteemed occasion was commonplace produced a warm feeling akin to that enjoyed when seeing a long-time friend for the first time in a good while.

Remembrance for the life of a player who will forever be viewed as one of their own in the late Gary Speed was also an enriching emotion for Whites supporters.

As for matters on the pitch, it was a different matter, although Leeds will be grateful that they will not have to face a side of the calibre of Newcastle United for a good while.

Probably not until mid-April in the St James’ Park return when Rafael Benitez’s side will have more than likely rubber-stamped their Premier League return with silverware in the cupboard.

Unbeaten on their travels since August 5, Newcastle, without being spectacular, possessed the poise and quality on show at Elland Road as their tour of Yorkshire continued with a third win this autumn following earlier triumphs at Barnsley and Rotherham.

As with the game at Oakwell, their striking talisman Dwight Gayle proved the difference with a brace – and showed just what spending £10m on a player can bring you as the visitors serenely moved five points clear at the Championship summit.

Minus several teeth after reporting being knocked unconscious during a recent night out in Liverpool, the forward showed that he also packs a predatory punch on the pitch, taking his goals tally in the past six games to an eye-catching nine.

Gayle’s 23rd-minute opener owed everything to a calamitous moment from Robert Green, who inexplicably spilled an audacious lob from around 40 yards from Jack Colback, with the Newcastle No 9 backing up like all good strikers do to bundle home the loose ball.

His second nine minutes after the break was a different thing entirely, the final act of a sumptuous move which bore the imprint of Premier League class.

Lovely play involving Ayoze Perez and Vurnon Anita undressed Leeds, with the latter sending over a delightful low cross which was dispatched clinically by Gayle.

That was pretty much that.

It left Leeds to reflect upon a first home defeat in eight matches with captain Kyle Bartley admitting the hosts have plenty to mull over, while fully backing Green to recover from his aberration in another televised game at Rotherham United on Saturday.

Bartley said: “Greeny has saved us in three, four or maybe five games and is a first-class goalkeeper and a full international.

“When you play at the back or in goal, you get punished for any single mistake. But he is experienced enough to put it past him and next week he will probably get man of the match.”

On yesterday’s loss, in front of United’s biggest league crowd in almost six years, he added: “It was disappointing as the crowd was absolutely rocking.

“We know how big this club is and for me it is a privilege to wear this shirt and a packed Elland Road is fantastic and I don’t think there are many better places.

“We will reflect on this. Everyone knows how important it is to keep the crowd on side and I think they have been great and I am sure they will continue that support.

“It shows how far we have come that we came into this game fully prepared to get the three points and we thought that we would.”

Leeds struggled to gain a toehold for the opening 30 minutes with Newcastle gorging on possession and dictating proceedings. But a frenzied, if belated, spell of Leeds pressure ahead of the break did provide encouragement.

Controversy reigned shortly before the interval when raucous home penalty appeals for handball were rebuffed when Colback blocked Ronaldo’s Vieira’s cross with what looked like a leading arm.

Earlier, the recalled Colback was the central figure at the other end to enable the league leaders to forge a deserved lead, albeit in bizarre fashion, with Gayle probably scarcely believing his luck when Green dropped Colbeck’s effort.

Yoann Gouffran almost added a second with a shot which whistled wide, but to their credit, Leeds started to show they were in no mood to surrender meekly their seven-match unbeaten run on home soil.

Karl Darlow pushed over a Luke Ayling header in the nick of time following Chris Wood’s flick on, and Pontus Jansson headed straight at the visiting goalkeeper in a stirring spell.

Then came the controversy, with Jansson booked for protesting the failure to award a penalty, ruling him out of the weekend derby at Rotherham.

Leeds started the second half with intent with a fine instinctive reaction save from Darlow denying Eunan O’Kane.

Crucially, Benitez’s side weathered the mini-storm and put the game to bed on 54 minutes with a sweet second, dispatched clinically by Gayle and saw out the game with relative ease. They already have the look of champions-elect.