A COMBINATION of roadworks and the search for a joyrider who had fled a crash on the approach to the DW Stadium meant the Leeds United team bus arrived late yesterday lunchtime.
The miscreant did not remain a fugitive from justice for long, his hapless attempts at escape being rather undermined by seeking refuge in one of the small tunnels that connect the River Douglas to an overflow channel running besides Wigan Athletic’s home of 21 years.
In the end firefighters had to unbolt a cover to the tunnel and, with the air ambulance stood nearby, he was led away.
It was an impressive display of team-work from all three emergency services that Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds duly emulated just a few hours later to move back to the summit of the Championship.
Against a Wigan side previously unbeaten on home soil this season, United overcame falling behind inside six minutes to claim a deserved three points.
Several in white caught the eye. Barry Douglas, on his return after a four-game absence through injury, brought a touch of class to United’s left flank.
In order to be first in the Championship we have to make a difference between us and the other teams. We did that at the beginning of the season, but then stopped doing it. If we want (to stay top) we have to show regularity in gaining points.Marcelo Bielsa
Pablo Hernandez and Kemar Roofe, the two goalscorers, were also lively, but what most impressed about Leeds was just how hard the visitors worked for each other.
If either Liam Cooper or Pontus Jansson got into trouble the other would invariably be on hand to help out.
If that did not prove possible Kalvin Phillips, effectively operating as a third centre-back, was ready to step in.
It was a similar story in midfield with Adam Forshaw seemingly covering every blade of glass to provide the platform for such as Hernandez, Mateusz Klich and Ezgjan Alioski to get forward in support of lone frontman Roofe.
Add United’s innate ability to find a team-mate with a pinpoint pass even when under immense pressure amid a sea of blue shirts to their undoubted work ethic and Bielsa had every right to be satisfied at the final whistle.
“The win was very important,” said the Argentinian.
“We only drew at home (to Nottingham Forest) in our last game so we needed to win to achieve the pace we need.
“The team was calm. The team showed consistency to impose our style. If you look at the aspect of the game – the possession, chances conceded to the opponent and chances we had – we were able to play our football and impose our style.”
Yesterday was the fourth time Leeds have moved top of the Championship. Bielsa admits consistency will be key to staying there this time.
He added: “There is a statistic that says if we do not take into account the first few games we are ranked 10th. We have to change this.
“In order to be first in the Championship we have to make a difference between us and the other teams. We did that at the beginning of the season, but then stopped doing it. If we want (to stay top) we have to show regularity in gaining points.”
Meetings between Leeds and Wigan have been few and far between down the years. This was just their 12th clash, but there was an edge to proceedings more usually associated with rivalries of much longer standing.
This much became clear in the opening exchanges as Joe Garner barged into Liam Cooper and then the United captain returned fire with extras just moments later.
A free-kick was rightly awarded and Reece James punished Cooper with a quite exquisite curled effort from 25 yards that goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell only saw late.
Leeds’s response was impressively swift. Douglas, collecting the ball out wide just three minutes later, spotted a run from Klich long before Wigan, and Darron Gibson in particular, had woken up to the danger.
Klich, by now enjoying yards of space, had time to look up before picking out Hernandez. He did the rest with a first time finish that Christian Walton had no hope of keeping out.
Where the Wigan goalkeeper was blame-free in that instance, however, there was no such excuse for United’s second goal just 39 seconds into the second half.
As a tame cross from Hernandez headed towards Walton there appeared little danger.
Inexplicably, though, he failed to collect. Roofe, left with the easiest chance of the season, duly put the ball into the empty net.
United’s winner may have had an element of luck, but the win was anything but fortunate with Bielsa’s side creating enough chances to have put the game to bed even without the helping hand from Walton. Hernandez struck a post late on, and Jamie Shackleton should have done better with the rebound.
Roofe, Klich and Hernandez also had chances in the second half whereas Wigan’s one threatening moment of note came when substitute Callum McManaman stepped inside a challenge five minutes from time only to then balloon a shot over.
It had been a similar story in the opening 45 minutes with most of the threat coming from the visitors, Walton twice displaying his agility to deny, first, Forshaw and then Alioski’s floated cross-cum-shot. Such had been United’s dominance, in fact, even Latics manager Paul Cook had no quarrel with the result.
“Leeds are an excellent side,” he said. “Let’s make no bones about that. Was it a deserved victory for them? People will probably say it was.
“Leeds have the quality that shone out in the game. They will go very close this year.”