ON AN occasion when Leeds United centre-half Pontus Jansson had implored the home patrons to arrive early, the ones keen to hang around Elland Road at the end were from steelworkers’ stock in the south of the county.
It was a day for doing when talk was cheap. The “game of our lives”, insisted Jansson, but primarily this was a day for holding nerve and finding a way on a morass of a pitch. Not a day for histrionics, but for carrying on regardless.
The early noise came from Leeds, but the spoils ultimately were Sheffield’s, just as they had been almost a year to the day when Sheffield Wednesday triumphed amid a snowstorm at LS11 on St Patrick’s Day 2018.
This time it was their cross-city rivals Sheffield United who did a number on their West Yorkshire hosts amid persistent wind and sheeting rain as they recorded back-to-back wins in Leeds for the first time since March 1961.
The celebrations at the end were reserved for one elated section of the John Charles Stand.
Blades’ players and staff are now resident in Spain for some warm weather training and a spot of rest and relaxation before the serious business begins again in 12 days, but the sun was metaphorically on their backs by mid-afternoon on Saturday.
Not a day for histrionics, but for carrying on regardless.Leon Wobschall
Ahead of the game head coach Marcelo Bielsa gave out sweets to young Leeds fans, while his opposite number Chris Wilder was equally benevolent, with a discernible twinkle in his eye.
The Blades chief distributed the equivalent of toffee – in the words of sagacious former Liverpool manager Bob Paisley – in the direction of Leeds in a quest to inflate their sense of self-esteem, while mindful that with just under two months of the season to go the dealing is still to be done.
Leeds were arguably the best team in the division, with their learned head coach having sprinkled the equivalent of magic dust, Wilder opined – all the time keeping his powder dry when referencing his own team, who went on to deliver a job well done in fluorescent yellow.
Ridiculed by rivals after conceding three late goals in a crazy finale at Villa Park on February 8, the bigger story is that the Blades have not conceded a goal since.
Contributions have arrived from their alert back five – including a goalkeeper in Dean Henderson who was afforded a spot of schadenfreude in front of Leeds fans after being ridiculed for his ghastly mistake in the reverse fixture, which also saw the visitors win 1-0 – to those at the top end including a couple of old-stagers and artful dodgers in Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick.
The pair may have had no sights on goal, but they teamed up to telling effect when it mattered.
In the 71st minute McGoldrick beat Jansson to flick on Jack O’Connell’s lofted pass and Sharp hoodwinked his good friend Liam Cooper to set up Chris Basham for his game-breaking moment.
An everyman player who is rarely garlanded, but whose qualities are respected by his work-mates, the Geordie arrived on cue to slide in a deadly low drive past Kiko Casilla – and that was that.
After being told off by his manager at half-time and threatened with substitution if he did not liven up, Basham – who spurned the best chance of the first half on the cusp of half-time – was rather more popular by the end.
Basham, pressed into service in midfield away from his preferred defensive role, said: “I feel ecstatic about scoring the goal. I had a chance in the first half and going in at half-time I knew what was coming. The gaffer said, ‘Why did not you just shoot?’ Fortunately I got the second one.
“The goals come when I am playing at my worst, every time I have a bad game and do not feel at my best.
“I was not enjoying the first half at all, but the gaffer said to just set ourselves again and come out.
“I struggled to start with, but the more the game went on the more confidence we got.”
The opposite applied for a Leeds side whose aplomb was there for all to see in a one-sided first half that should have seen them lead by at least one goal.
Unfortunately, for their sakes, their Achilles heel in terms of their lamentable conversion rate of goals to chances flared up again – the one area of censure in a season of note.
The sublime craft of Pablo Hernandez helped set up early opportunities for Patrick Bamford and Jack Harrison, with the former denied by a fine block from Martin Cranie and the latter forced to look to the skies after volleying over when the goal was beckoning.
Tyler Roberts also headed an excellent chance over and the Blades should have punished that profligacy moments before the break, but Basham dallied after McGoldrick’s wonderful defence-splitting pass.
Leeds persisted on a sticky surface on the restart, but the Blades, seeking a seventh clean sheet in a row, boxed clever – even if they heaved a sigh of relief when Roberts’ shot shuddered the post after Mateusz Klich’s cut-back.
Then the moment came and Basham was not about to pass it up for a second time.
As for Jansson, an eventful day deteriorated badly.
Thrown up front late on, the Swede fired wide from close range and ended the game with the goalkeepers’ jersey on after Casilla was dismissed at the death for committing a professional foul outside of his area on Sharp, with Leeds having already used their three substitutes.
Jansson’s final push for the limelight saw him go up front for a late, late corner, but the story had already been filed.