Big-match verdict: Pablo Hernandez is leading light as Leeds United show their intent against Derby County

Chris Wood heads in the only goal of the game to give Leeds United victory over Derby County (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).
Chris Wood heads in the only goal of the game to give Leeds United victory over Derby County (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).
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‘DO I not like that’ is the phrase that came to encapsulate the reign of one former England manager who sadly left us this week.

Steve McClaren, one of Graham Taylor’s successors in what many regard as ‘the impossible job’, could surely have been forgiven for uttering the same five words during last night’s defeat to Leeds.

His Derby County team were given a footballing lesson by United and McClaren was fuming.

That much was evident from his demeanour when watching from a seat in the Elland Road press box during the first half, the banging of the table in front of the former Three Lions chief becoming such a common occurrence that those in close proximity were in danger of getting a headache.

McClaren’s frustration was understandable. Leeds, despite injury and suspension meaning manager Garry Monk had just one available centre-half, made his Derby side look distinctly average and their sorry night was summed up in stoppage-time when Bradley Johnson was dismissed for his second yellow card.

Pablo Hernandez, fresh from making his move to Elland Road permanent, was outstanding, his finesse and vision meaning the Rams constantly struggled to contain the Spaniard.

Kemar Roofe was another who caused untold problems for the visitors, while Ronaldo Vieira once again belied his 18 years to run things in the centre of the field alongside the exemplary Liam Bridcutt.

The only thing missing, in fact, was the flurry of goals that such an enterprising approach deserved.

Still, Chris Wood’s first-half strike means Leeds have opened up an eight-point advantage on Derby, who sit directly below the play-off places and look the most likely of the chasing pack to make a concerted challenge.

Not that this was evident last night. In fact, such was Leeds’s dominance in the first half that goalkeeper Rob Green could have joined the viewers at home in watching from an armchair for much of the proceedings.

Apart from a brave block at the feet of Tom Ince and a flying save to deny Darren Bent in stoppage-time, the Leeds goalkeeper was a spectator as the hosts pinned Derby back deep in their own territory.

That United had just Wood’s 17th goal of the season to show for this control was down to the agility of Scott Carson in the Rams’ goal and a truly horrible miss by Kyle Bartley.

The defender’s big moment came in the 24th minute, as Hernandez’s corner – one of 11 won by Monk’s side in that first half – was flicked into his path by Souleymane Doukara.

Just two yards out and with the goal at his mercy, the net seemed certain to bulge only for the loanee to somehow manage to touch the ball wide.

It was an awful miss and one that followed several other spurned chances by Leeds as Carson twice made good saves.

Doukara, whose energetic display could not have been more contrasting from his abject showing five days earlier at Cambridge United in the FA Cup, also went close during this onslaught, his fizzing shot from 25 yards missing the target by just a few inches.

Had Leeds gone in at the interval on level terms, it would have been a travesty. Wood, however, ensured there was at least some reward for Monk’s men by nodding in a pinpoint delivery from Hernandez.

By then, McClaren had left his vantage point in the press box to bark orders at his players from the touchline. No doubt, a similarly strong message was delivered in the away dressing room during the interval.

Initially, he got a response and Leeds had a big let-off when Green’s attempted clearance was diverted into the net by Bent only for referee Scott Duncan to rule the striker had used his arm.

After that, though, the hosts regained their composure as a makeshift back four featuring right-back Luke Ayling at centre-half kept the visitors firmly in check.

This defensive solidity meant if there was going to be a second goal of the night it was going to be scored by Leeds.

Monk’s men, though, were unable to apply the final touch. Doukara fluffed a great chance after fine work by Hernandez, who was then denied a tap-in at the back post by a last-ditch clearance from James Hanson,

Gaetano Berardi then went within a whisker of scoring his first goal for Leeds with a rasping drive from 25 yards before Vieira brought another smart save from Carson.

Hernandez claimed the rebound but, again, he could not find the net with his curled shot going wide. It mattered little as United moved to within four points of the automatic promotion slots on a night to savour at Elland Road for all but McClaren.

Leeds United: Green; Coyle, Ayling, Bartley, Berardi; Vieira, Bridcutt; Roofe (Dallas 79), Hernandez (Mowatt 87), Doukara; Wood. Unused substitutes: Silvestri, Antonsson, O’Kane, Phillips, Denton.

Derby County: Carson; Baird, Keogh, Shackell, Hanson; de Sart (Hughes 46), Bryson, Johnson; Ince, Camara (Vydra 46), Bent (Nugent 68). Unused substitutes: Mitchell, Russell, Pearce, Weimann.

Referee: S Duncan (Northumberland).