ANOTHER intriguing twist in the Championship promotion race and one that this time favoured Leeds United, albeit only after a nervy finale.
Having surrendered both the leadership of the second tier and the initiative to Norwich City since the turn of the year, Marcelo Bielsa’s men regained their swagger in timely fashion.
Goals from Pontus Jansson on his 28th birthday and Jack Harrison were enough to see off a spirited Swansea City who gave their hosts a few anxious moments late on following Oli McBurnie’s late penalty.
The value of this deserved victory became evident when confirmation came through that the Canaries had suffered a shock 3-1 defeat at Preston North End.
It meant a return to the summit for United, whose performance was a step up in class from most of those that had seen the preceding run of seven games yield just two victories.
Pablo Hernandez was outstanding against his old club, while Patrick Bamford put in an impressive shift up front as the £7m summer signing continues to build his match fitness after two lengthy spells out injured.
Kalvin Phillips also ran tirelessly in midfield, as Jansson and Liam Cooper stood tall at the heart of the defence.
Swansea’s gameplan had been clear from the opening exchanges. Unlike Norwich during United’s chastening defeat on their last Elland Road outing, the Graham Potter’s men were content to sit off the home defence.
The hope then was that a three-man forward line lacking a recognised striker until the introduction just after the hour of former Bradford striker McBurnie would capitalise on any United mistakes with their pace and swift movement.
Daniel James, whose proposed transfer to Leeds collapsed at the 11th hour on deadline day, was one of those attackers sporting a mish-mash of orange and grey shirts hoping to profit from any slips.
But he was only able to flit in and out of proceedings, the lasting memory of the wideman’s night being his substitution to the accompaniment of the chant, ‘You’re Leeds and you know you are’.
A Hernandez corner in the 20th minute led to the opening goal, though only after the ball had ricochet around the Swansea area like a pinball.
Cooper attempted to control 15 yards from goal but the ball broke to Ezgjan Alioski after striking the United captain’s heel.
His first time shot was powerful but a Swansea leg got in the way, diverting the ball into the path of Jansson whose finish was as good as any by a centre forward this season.
It was only the second time United had scored the opening goal in a fixture since the start of 2019, an anomaly for a side chasing promotion that had undoubtedly played a part in the leadership having recently passed to Norwich.
Buoyed to have broken the deadlock for the first time since the 2-0 win over Derby County on January 11, Leeds doubled their advantage 11 minutes before the interval.
This time the move that led to Erwin Mulder being beaten was much cleaner, a left wing cross from Alioski allowing Harrison to wrong-foot the Swans goalkeeper with a deft header.
Bielsa’s side should have had a third before half-time. Hernandez was the creator this time, his beautifully flighted 40-yard cross from the right flank just begging Bamford to convert from eight yards out.
Instead, the former Middlesbrough striker could only head tamely at Mulder.
Further chances came and went after the restart. Kemar Roofe brought a smart save from the Swans goalkeeper before later dragging a shot inches wide after being released by Jamie Shackleton.
Bamford, Roofe and Mateusz Klich were also unable to find the net during an almighty goalmouth scramble, which meant when Luke Ayling rashly dived in on Joel Asoro with just four minutes remaining that Swansea sensed an unlikely way back into proceedings.
McBurnie duly converted from the spot to set up a frantic finale. Even a head coach with Bielsa’s experience was not immune from the tension, fourth official Robert Jones being left in no doubt as the Argentinian’s frustration at the substitution of Hernandez for Leif Davis being held up despite a break in play.
Swansea had earlier gone close when Mike van der Hoorn was agonisingly close to converting a Barrie McKay cross. Matt Grimes also curled a free-kick on to the post via a slight deflection.
But there was to be no last gasp rescue act for the Welsh side, as Leeds held on to the relief of the home fans in the 34,044 crowd who made their way home celebrating a return to the Championship summit.
Leeds United: Casilla; Ayling, Jansson, Cooper, Alioski; Phillips; Hernandez (Davis 90), Klich (Shackleton 77), Roofe, Harrison; Bamford (Roberts 70). Unused substitutes: Peacock-Farrell, Brown, Stevens, Halme.
Swansea City: Mulder; Naughton, Carter-Vickers, van der Hoorn, Roberts; Byers, Fulton (Asoro 56); Grimes; McKay (McBurnie 61), Celina, James (68). Unused substitutes: Nordfeldt, Narsingh, Dyer, Baker-Richardson, Harries.
Referee: D Webb (Lancashire).