Leeds United’s doughty persistence overcame Hull City’s dogged resistance at Elland Road last night.
Twelve months ago the in-form Whites came unstuck as the Tigers ended their seven-match winning run.
Last night Hull were just threatening to pull off a repeat when Leeds were rewarded for all their possession football with a stroke of good fortune. We will probably not know until the spring if this team can go one better than Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds.1 but on nights like this the signs are encouraging.
As against Huddersfield Town, they were not at their sparkling best but against a team with a fondness for upsetting the big boys, and in a derby to boot, they took the three points. They are top of the table again and once more they have won seven in a row.
With Leeds struggling to trouble, let alone beat George Long in the first 74 minutes, the unfortunate Jordy de Wijs did it for them, diverting Helder Costa’s cross as the centre-back slid in for the umpteenth time to try to put out a fire.
The hosts had been banging at the door throughout, particularly in the first half, without Long being forced to save.
The hosts had been banging at the door throughout, particularly in the first half, without Long being forced to save.Stuart Rayner
When Leeds broke through there was usually an amber-shirted defender throwing himself in the way. De Wijs was one of those in hero mode. At other times their touch or their decision-making went astray.
Patrick Bamford tried to be too clever when Leeds broke, giving the ball away with a backheel when a simple ball outside to Mateusz Klich was available, then glanced a header from Costa’s cross wide. Pablo Hernandez was angry with himself when he tried to curl the ball into the top corner, but could only balloon it.
An uncharacteristically poor touch denied Jack Harrison a shooting opportunity when he was picked out at the far post and shortly before half-time Long came a long way to take the winger’s curling cross but when he fumbled it, there was no one in white to take advantage. As usual, there were plenty of Hull defenders hungry to help out.
Leeds had paid Hull the compliment of switching to a back four so that they had full-backs to watch the Tigers’ brilliant wingers but they still caused fleeting problems.
Jarrod Bowen got his first sight of goal in the seventh minute, but it would be a rare one. He wasted it, dragging his shot wide.
The wingers swapped over in the 25th minute, Bowen starting a move off by backheeling the ball through Stuart Dallas’s legs, then drifting left. Kamil Grosicki finished it by earning a corner with his shot from the inside-right channel. Tom Eaves headed into the side netting to the excitement of the visiting fans.
When Gaetano Berardi did the same at a corner at the opposite end a minute later, a group of Leeds fans sarcastically pretended they thought he had scored.
Eaves’s header was 25 minutes in. Hull’s next major threat came when he volleyed a long ball from the restart wide.
They were, though, much improved in the second half. If anything they looked more comfortable defensively while posing more of a threat, mainly through their giant striker.
When Callum Elder’s slide tackle on Bamford ended an excellent Leeds move down the left, Hull countered immediately and Eaves brought a first save of the night out of Kiko Casilla.
Leeds were looking sloppier and more frustrated, a Klich cross from a good position hit straight out, Phillips picking up another booking on his return from suspension. When a poor Costa touch saw another move break down Grosicki put his foot down. Now Leeds were doing the blocking, Stuart Dallas denying Bowen, then White on Grosicki.
It was starting to feel as if a goal was coming, an excellent Hernandez ball releasing Bamford as the game started to open up. Pushed out wide, he sensibly picked out Harrison. Cue another block, from de Wijs. It would catch him out four minutes later, scoring an own goal.
Having caught their opponents once, Leeds quickly followed up with another. Casilla made a brilliant save from a towering Eaves header at an 81st minute corner.
When the Whites broke down the other end, substitute Ezgjan Alioski slotting home the rebound after Bamford had initially hit the post, the fans knew whose name to sing and the Leeds players knew who to run to in celebration. Their goalkeeper has been in outstanding form lately.
Hull’s race had been run. Leeds could not be stopped.
Leeds United: Casilla; Ayling, White, Berardi, Dallas; Philiips, Costa (Struijk 90), Hernandez, Klich (Douglas 90+6), Harrison; (Alioski 70) Bamford. Unused substitutes: Nketiah, Miazek,Gotts, Clarke.
Hull City: Long; Lichaj, De Wijs, Burke, Elder (Lewis-Potter 85); Batty (Bowler 74), Lopes; Bowen, Irvine, Grosicki (Honeyman 90+1); Eaves. Unused substitutes: Tafazolli, Ingram, Kingsley, Pennington.
Referee: D Webb (County Durham).