Leeds United turn on the style, but Sheffield United at least show spirit
After about five minutes of football at Elland Road, Leeds United had put Sheffield United back in their box, or so it seemed.
It was, then, of immense credit that 45 minutes later the anxious cries were still coming from a home bench agitated by the prospect of playing so much good football, yet letting their neighbours off.
A 2-1 defeat did nothing for the Blades' super-model slim hopes of staying in the Premier League, but it at least gave them some pride to cling to before their fall. Leeds fans, as always, could enjoy the beauty of their team's football, and be pleased it got its full reward in the points table.
Even when it came to substitutions, the gulf was clear. Midway through the first half Sheffield United brought on Oliver Burke to try and get back on level turns but before he could come on the shout came from Leeds's technical area “Rodri” and the hosts brought on their £27m Spanish international Rodrigo.
When George Baldock waited on his heels to pick up a pass from Leeds's Kalvin Phillips, only for Patrick Bamford to nip in front of him, it summed up the difference in sharpness between the two sides. The Whites were already in front by then and ought to have added to before the break, but their failure to do so allowed Ben Osborn to equalise shortly before it with his side's only shot on target all day.
Leeds took a few minutes to decide what shape they were going to play, which was remarkable considering they were up against an unchanged Sheffield United laid out in the same formation they have been playing since they came up to the Premier League last season, even if second striker David McGoldrick was wandering slightly to confuse matters.
Once the home side settled on a 3-3-3-1, their brighter minds were obvious. In the eighth minute when Jagielka played a pass into John Lundstram, facing his own goal, and Kalvin Phillips, who really ought to be worn out after an arduous spell of national service, robbed him and forced an Aaron Ramsdale save. Soon the goalkeeper was keeping out Stuart Dallas.
It seemed like a matter of time before Leeds were in front, and it would not be long.
Tyler Roberts played Raphinha in and he wriggled to the byline and laid the ball across for Jack Harrison, arriving in space at the far post, to tap in. The winger was applauding the build-up even as the ball crossed the line.
Leeds were piling forward again when Enda Stevens lost possession in the 20th minute and the Blades were fortunate Harrison's slip on untrustworthy pitch took the sting out of the move.
Midway through the first half the visitors showed their first flickers, a good passing move ended by a foul on McGoldrick, Diego Llorente keeping the free-kick away from Stevens, then McGoldrick curling a shot wide. But Leeds went down the other end with a Luke Ayling cross – the Blades do not have a monopoly on overlapping centre-backs – and an Ezgjan Alioski cross Baldock blocked, although in fairness, Ramsdale looked to have it covered had he not.
The move which featured Bamford out-thinking Baldock ended with Raphinha's shot blocked, and Leeds then went close with a move featuring cleverness and courage, Raphina stepping over Bamford's pass but Roberts going in for it despite a bad tackle flying in from Baldock. Harrison's shot from Roberts's pass was touched just wide by the right ankle of Ramsdale.
Baldock actually came off worse, groggy after a long period of treatment and unable to see out the half.
With Phillips half-volleying over and Roberts shooting wide, it just seemed a question of how many but instead, in the time added on for the attention to their makeshift centre-back, the Blades attacked through McBurnie, whose shot was deflected into the path of Osborn and whilst his effort was blocked too, technology showed Ayling well behind the goalline.
When Jagielka put through his own net, Harrison crossing after being wonderfully picked out by Roberts, that looked like it could be that, especially when Dallas's shot following a Harrison step-over skimmed the junction of post and bar.
“Again!” demanded Marcelo Bielsa, desperate for his players to match his intensity.
Another good move ended with Alioski blazing over and it took an excellent stretching tackle by Ethan Ampadu to deny Bamford. Ramsdale saved with his feet from the centre-forward.
Sheffield United clung on by their fingernails, at one point having four centre-forwards on the pitch, though their use of a concussion substitute when Alioski's arm caught Jayden Bogle in the face allowed them to change that with a fourth alteration.
John Fleck had a shot blocked from a decent break and in the final 10 minutes, as Rhian Brewster thumped a shot wide when a Lundstram free-kick was cleared out to him and Oliver Burke – briefly a wing-back – was not far wide either.
Leeds, of course, had plenty of better chances at the other end – most notably Alioski, Harrison, Rodrigo, and Jagielka this time putting a cross the right side of the goal – but their failure to put them away made the cries from the home bench increasingly anxious.
They did, though, get the win they thoroughly deserved.
Leeds United: Meslier; Ayling, Llorente, Cooper; Dallas (Koch 90), Phillips, Alioski; Raphinha, Roberts (Klich 82), Harrison; Bamford (Rodrigo 65).
Unused substitutes: Casilla, Poveda, Costa, Hernandez, Struijk, Shackleton.
Sheffield United: Ramsdale; Baldock (Ampadu 45), Jagielka, Stevens; Bogle (Brewster 73), Lundstram, Norwood (Burke 65), Fleck, Osborn; McGoldrick; McBurnie (Egan 77).
Unused substitutes: Mousset, Lowe, Foderingham, Bryan, Ndiaye.
Referee: G Scott (Lancashire).
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