Leeds United 2 QPR 1: The Verdict – Whites ‘win dirty’ to show they have staying power

Spot on: Leeds United's Kemar Roofe celebrates his penalty'.Picture: Gerard Binks
Spot on: Leeds United's Kemar Roofe celebrates his penalty'.Picture: Gerard Binks
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WHEN it comes to signing off for Christmas at Elland Road with a victory over QPR, Leeds United have been here before.

Back in December, 2010, the Whites, under Simon Grayson, famously set the pulses racing with a 2-0 win over the R’s – then leading the second tier – to shout out their automatic promotion credentials to anyone who wanted to listen.

Of course, that 2010-11 season ultimately proved to be an ‘if only’ campaign that ended in bitter disappointment with a deflating seventh-place finish.

The present-day Leeds may be going about their business in rather more understated fashion in comparison to the way in which Messrs Gradel, Snodgrass and Howson et al lit up the Championship in the winter of that season.

But, whisper it softly, they appear to be on a sounder, more balanced footing this time around.

This season style arrived early in sunshine wins over the likes of Stoke City, Derby County and Norwich City. Now there is substance, showcased in a quartet of wins in which Leeds’s bloody-minded determination ‘to get the job done’ and handle adversity would have drawn nods of appreciation from Theresa May.

On target: Leeds United's Kemar Roofe scores from the spot'.Picture: Gerard Binks

On target: Leeds United's Kemar Roofe scores from the spot'.Picture: Gerard Binks

The stoic refusal to yield amid all manner of injury vicissitudes has been admirable and smacks of a squad of players who feel a sense of permanence at the top end of the Championship.

Of course, a little bit of fortune can help along the way.

Leeds perhaps had such a moment on Saturday following a 53rd-minute spot-kick award that looked soft.

Give that the Whites had waited almost 14 months – 420 days to be precise – and 58 games for a penalty award in their favour they were never likely to concern themselves with its merits or otherwise when it finally did come along.

It was tough in the end and we had to dig in and I thought we did that well and it was one of those games where sometimes you have got to win dirty. That is what we did. It was an important win.

Leeds United’s Jamie Shackleton

It arrived when referee Peter Bankes spotted a perceived handball offence from Toni Leistner.

Given his goalscoring form against QPR, Kemar Roofe was always likely to fancy spot-kick duties more than most.

Donning the captain’s armband in the absence of Liam Cooper, Pablo Hernandez could have pulled rank on the United forward as discussions took place in the build-up.

Perhaps wisely, the Spaniard – who missed Leeds’s previous penalty in stoppage-time during the home game with Reading on October 14, 2017 – relented.

Roofe, who had earlier nicked a leveller for Leeds to cancel out Nakhi Wells’s 26th-minute opener, notched his sixth goal in four matches against the London club – another good decision made.

Taking his season’s tally into the double-figure mark will have afforded personal kudos to Roofe, but yet again this was a day when others emerged.

The previous week it had been Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Aapo Halme and Jack Clarke at Bramall Lane and, on an occasion when Leeds recorded a fourth straight league victory for the first time this year, it was left to young Jamie Shackleton to put his hand up.

Given a first league start at Elland Road for his home-town club, the teenage tyro was indomitable on the right – a player who clearly feels like he belongs.

Shackleton said: “I am a Leeds lad, all my family were here. I have played in the cup here in front of a few less fans, but to come out and see more or less a full house here was special for me, especially with all my family here to see it.

“It was tough in the end and we had to dig in and I thought we did that well and it was one of those games where sometimes you have got to win dirty. That is what we did. It was an important win.”

On a response of stature from Leeds after the 4-1 loss at West Brom a month ago, he added: “It was so important we bounced back from that defeat, so to win four games on the trot since then is the perfect response.

“The focus now is to try to maintain this run because the longer we can keep it going the better as the games come thick and fast now, so we need to keep on top of things.”

The signs looked ominous for Rangers early on, with Leeds in the mood amid the teeming rain – full of piercing movement, razor-sharp passing and high tempo.

Recalled Samuel Saiz slotted in neatly enough and it was fortunate for QPR’s sake that Roofe’s finishing was rusty at the start.

An early chance flew wide under pressure before the striker failed to beat Joe Lumley with plenty of the goal to aim at after Mateusz Klich’s shot deflected invitingly for him.

When Wells was afforded his chance at the other end he was not so charitable, with the ex-Huddersfield Town striker needing no second invitation to cash in on hesitancy from Kalvin Phillips and then Pontus Jansson before clinically firing home low.

Leeds lost their way only to find a reprieve seconds before the interval when Roofe flicked home Hernandez’s pass and the United top-scorer’s penalty acumen was unerring when called upon.

Hat-trick chances arrived, but the game remained in the balance with Leeds forced to show their ugly side to see the job out.

Wells missed a glorious chance before firing just wide with Peacock-Farrell tipping over Jake Bidwell’s lob as Rangers’ pressed. But Leeds refused to blink. Again.

Leeds United: Peacock-Farrell; Jansson, Phillips, Douglas; Shackleton, Klich, Forshaw, Saiz (Halme 81); Hernandez (Clarke 86), Roofe, Alioski. Unused substitutes: Huffer, Bamford, Harrison, Baker, Davis.

Queens Park Rangers: Lumley; Rangel, Lynch, Leistner, Bidwell; Cameron (Scowen 45), Luongo; Wszolek (Osayi-Samuel 73), Eze (Smith 78), Freeman; Wells. Unused substitutes: Ingram, Furlong, Cousins, Hemed.

Referee: P Bankes (Merseyside).