Verdict, Leeds United 2 Rotherham United 0: Marcelo Bielsa sets all-time record

Scorers: Luke Ayling celebrates his goal with Kemar Roofe, who scored the second for Leeds.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Scorers: Luke Ayling celebrates his goal with Kemar Roofe, who scored the second for Leeds. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
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THE edges have started to curl and what was once a bright blue has turned markedly duller.

But the advertising hoarding tucked under an iron bridge that carries a long disused railway across Gelderd Road, less than half-a-mile from Leeds United’s home, still requires a double take.

Kemar Roofe goes round Sean Raggett to score his goal against Rotherham United. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

Kemar Roofe goes round Sean Raggett to score his goal against Rotherham United. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

Marcelo Bielsa, looking suitably stern, stares back from said poster and the presence in the West Riding of the man described by Pep Guardiola as “the best coach in the world” remains strikingly surreal.

As does the manner in which a squad that displayed relegation form from January onwards last season has been transformed by the Argentinian into a vibrant and exciting group that currently boasts the Championship’s only remaining 100 per cent winning record.

While achieving the football equivalent of turning water into wine by inspiring such a remarkable turnaround, Bielsa has become the first manager in United’s 99-year history to win his first four games.

No wonder Leeds, as a city, has fallen so fast and so hard for the 63-year-old. Such is the level of affection felt by the locals, in fact, that even the arrival on Saturday of the bucket Bielsa perches on during matches drew a round of applause.

Married to this defensive stoicism was a willingness by the Millers to break at speed, helped hugely by Michael Smith’s ability to hold the ball up as the lone frontman.

Richard Sutcliffe

Bielsa’s players, too, have clearly been bowled over with Samuel Saiz, back to the form that so wowed Elland Road in the opening months of last season, already a big fan of the new man’s methods.

“He is a tough manager but also an excellent one,” said the United play-maker. “The training is incredibly hard, the toughest I have ever had in my career.

“But it is also worthwhile. You can see that from the rewards we are getting out on the pitch.”

Rotherham made the short trip up the M1 still in mourning for honorary life-president Barry Chuckle, whose funeral service had been held at the New York Stadium 24 hours earlier.

Derby rivalries were put aside in the early exchanges as both sets of fans united to chant: “To me, to you,” the catchphrase made famous by the Chuckle Brothers.

Those four words also neatly summed up the passing style Leeds had employed under Bielsa in the opening two victories that had so made the rest of the second tier sit up and take note.

Paul Warne’s response to those wins over Derby County and Stoke City was to devise a game-plan that worked admirably for 45 minutes.

Semi Ajayi and Will Vaulks, sentry-like when guarding the back four, were key to the plan as the Millers ensured there was no space for the home side to utilise their favoured crisp passing style.

No matter what Leeds tried, there was no way through.

Married to this defensive stoicism was a willingness by the Millers to break at speed, helped hugely by Michael Smith’s ability to hold the ball up as the lone frontman.

Such enterprise should have been rewarded by a half-time lead but Jon Taylor struck a post and Ryan Williams failed to beat Bailey Peacock-Farrell when gifted a gilt-edged opportunity by Liam Cooper’s blunder.

Had either gone in, the afternoon could have panned out very differently. Instead, Leeds regrouped and broke the deadlock just four minutes after the restart.

Luke Ayling was the unlikely scorer, the full-back heading in his first goal since joining United from Bristol City a couple of years ago.

He swooped after Marek Rodak had parried Cooper’s header to Roofe, whose miscued effort on goal fell so perfectly for Ayling that the ball crossed the line despite the best efforts of Vaulks.

Referee Robert Jones initially indicated that the Millers midfielder had kept the effort out but a delayed buzzing of his wristwatch told him technology was suggesting otherwise.

“I had completely forgotten about goal-line technology,” admitted Warne with a smile. “I did get told a few weeks ago but it must have been dead in my brain. I just didn’t remember.

“In fairness to the fourth official, he came over and said: ‘All our alarms are going off but the refs hasn’t gone off’. Personally, I think that should invalidate the goal! Seriously, though, it was disappointing because we are big and strong at set pieces.”

Once ahead, Leeds always looked the more likely to add a second goal. First, Roofe did well to create sufficient space to drill a low shot that clearly had Rodak worried only for the ball to strike team-mate Saiz.

Richard Wood then added to Saiz’s frustration by heading his goalbound shot off the line after another lovely attacking move from Leeds, who eventually wrapped up the points 18 minutes from time.

A chipped ball over the top was all Roofe needed to showcase his tremendous speed as he glided past Sean Raggett.

Then, after riding one last crude attempt by the Rotherham defender to halt his progress, Roofe made it three goals in as many league starts by beating Rodak from an acute angle.