NOT quite the majestic performance befitting a side returning to the Championship summit but very much a step in the right direction for Leeds United all the same.
Kemar Roofe and Liam Cooper got the goals as Marcelo Bielsa’s men cruised to a comfortable victory.
It was far from spectacular fare from United for much of the night. But it didn’t have to be against a sorry Ipswich Town side who already look destined for League One.
Pablo Hernandez did excel, the classy Spaniard providing the assist for both goals with his trademark pinpoint delivery from out wide.
Kalvin Phillips was also superb, be it in the defensive role that he started the evening or later once pushed into midfield following a tactical reshuffle.
Otherwise, though, this was functional rather than free-flowing from Leeds, who capitalised on West Bromwich Albion’s home defeat by Derby County to reclaim pole position.
Ipswich, in fact, are the very personification of the phrase, ‘Be careful what you wish for’.Richard Sutcliffe
For Bielsa, victory will have been most welcome.
Long gone are the days of early season when the Argentinian was content to watch the match unfold from his perch on a bucket in the technical area.
Now, he is up and down like a Jack-in-the-Box, the slightest aberration or moment of magic from anyone in white enough to get Bielsa to his feet.
Last night, most of these impromptu strolls around the home technical area were in response to a chance going begging with the visitors so insipid that there was little chance of anything but a Leeds win once Roofe had broken the deadlock midway through the first half.
Ipswich, in fact, are the very personification of the phrase, ‘Be careful what you wish for’.
The club’s fortunes since Mick McCarthy left last April – after almost three years of being harangued by the Portman Road crowd – has laid bare just what a fine job the Yorkshireman was doing in difficult circumstances.
His ‘crime’, in the eyes of supporters, was to play unambitious football. To value stoicism over style.
Never mind the fact Leeds-supporting McCarthy’s presence in the home dugout is akin to guaranteeing Championship football, even at clubs such as Ipswich where the money simply isn’t there to splurge in the transfer market.
Six months on from a parting of the ways that was celebrated in Suffolk, the Tractor Boys look a sorry mess and last night’s winning margin could easily have been doubled even though Leeds rarely hit top gear until the closing stages.
United’s opener was typically stylish.
A slick passing move culminated in Gaetano Berardi bringing the ball out of his own half to find Samuel Saiz, who instantly spread play to Hernandez.
He looked up before sending over a cross so delightful that it cut Ipswich’s centre half pairing in two.
Roofe did the rest with a close range header that gave Bartosz Bialkowski no chance.
It was the Spaniard’s third assist of the season and his fourth came in the 66th minute.
Collecting a short corner earned via his own shot being touched behind by Bialkowski, Hernandez turned before quicklyn assessing his options.
A split second later, his pass was being cleverly dummied by Phillips as the ball ran on to Cooper.
The United captain needed no further invitation, his first time side-footed shot flying into the roof of the net.
What meagre opposition Ipswich had provided melted away completely once two goals behind and Leeds really should have punished the bedraggled visitors.
Ezgjan Alioski, having been pushed forward from left-back by the arrival of Tom Pearce from the bench, thundered a shot against the inside of the post.
Bialkowski then turned away Adam Forshaw’s dipping effort from the edge of the penalty area. The Ipswich goalkeeper, who had managed to drop a Hernandez corner over his own line in last season’s 3-2 defeat at Elland Road, was at it again late on to keep out Alioski after another sweeping move had opened up the visitors.
That a third goal did not materialise during this late onslaught clearly frustrated Bielsa, who was up out of his seat for both near misses by Alioski.
Nevertheless, the Leeds head coach still had the look of a satisfied man at full time after leapfrogging Yorkshire duo Middlesbrough and Sheffield United to return to the summit.
Leeds United: Peacock-Farrell; Berardi (Dallas 27), Phillips, Cooper; Ayling, Klich, Alioski; Hernandez, Saiz (Forshaw 57), Harrison (Pearce 58); Roofe. Unused substitutes: Blackman, Roberts, Baker, Clarke.
Ipswich Town: Bialkowski; Spence, Chambers, Pennington, Knudsen; Downes, Skuse (Chalobah 84), Nolan, Edun (Ward 62); Jackson, Sears (Edwards 77). Unused substitutes: Gerken, Donacien, Dozzell, Lankester.
Referee: C Pawson (South Yorkshire).