IT WAS legendary Motown group The Supremes who famously sang about Nathan Jones being gone too long.
When talk turned to Stoke City’s increasingly besieged manager of that very same name ahead of last night’s game, it was disapproval as opposed to longing that was occupying the thoughts of most in the Potteries.
Fortunately, for Jones’s sake, Leeds United could not provide an encore to the events at the bet365 Stadium three days earlier when the Yorkshire club sauntered to a 3-0 Championship win when the gulf in class between both sides resembled a chasm.
Against the side who were the visitors when Bielsa-ball made its beguiling introduction to Leeds followers in the footballing Svengali’s maiden outing in charge in August 2018, a huge congregation of 30,002 similarly flocked to Elland Road in expectation.
They got their money’s worth in terms of drama and entertainment, if not quite the desired end result on a night when former Leeds loanee Jack Butland suffered the polar opposites in terms of emotions in the space of around half-an-hour.
Brought back into the Stoke line-up after a calamitous performance at Preston last week, Butland’s misery was compounded when he provided Leeds – 2-0 down at the interval – with a lifeline.
A far-post header from Helder Costa took the game to penalties, but Butland’s next contribution was more telling, albeit in not the fashion most might have thought.Leon Wobschall
His poor clearance slammed into the back of one of his own defenders and Eddie Nketiah was the gleeful beneficiary as he rolled the ball home into the empty net with the former England keeper in no-man’s land.
All goals count as newly-retired former Leeds forward Jermaine Beckford, watching on from the gantry, would have opined.
A far-post header from Helder Costa took the game to penalties, but Butland’s next contribution was more telling, albeit in not the fashion most might have thought.
Given merciless stick from the Kop after his error, Butland showed courage to steer home Stoke’s fifth successful penalty, with Jack Harrison then firing United’s next attempt against the post – the only miss on the night from 12 yards.
Creditably, Leeds supporters immediately sung Harrison’s name on an occasion when their side suffered their second successive second round Carabao Cup elimination.
It was almost exactly a year to the day since Bielsa’s team went down to a 2-0 home reverse to Preston. This latest elimination at least showcased Leeds vibrant traits under the Argentine on the restart, even if there were some unwanted habits from last season which were rather more unedifying in the first half.
Amid United’s undoubted elegance last season, cheap concessions at the back periodically pockmarked the scene and a couple of unwanted rewinds provided food for thought ahead of the break.
First, Danny Baath was left unmarked to powerfully head home Sam Clucas’s outswinging corner and Sam Vokes soon bundled home a second from close range after the speedy Tryese Campbell gave Kalvin Phillips the slip.
Seemingly, non-plussed at the first-half fare, Bielsa wasted no time in attempting to change the game’s narrative by bringing on Ben White, Adam Forshaw and Harrison in a triple substitution at the interval and it worked.
Understandably, his counterpart Jones had opted for pragmatism and experience in his line-up, with a back-line of five in operation when his Stoke side did not have the ball in a bid to smother the space for Leeds.
The hosts did not quite get their geometry right in terms of their attacking angles early on, but Bielsa’s side produced some adept slide-rule precision in a stirring spell to further shake the visitors’ fragile confidence.
But Stoke weathered the pressure and were handsomely rewarded in the build-up to the interval to give themselves a 2-0 lead that they could scarcely have contemplated at the start.
It was a jolt for Leeds after their weekend evisceration of the Potters, with the hosts having earlier gone close to the opener with a strike from Nketiah shuddered the post.
A curler which whistled wide from Costa also earned style points, but Stoke’s seasoned line-up held firm in the best traditions of an old boxer.
Stoke, who went close early on when Vokes’s point-blank header was kept out on the line by Kiko Casilla, had something to hold onto although Butland should have been picking the ball out of the net when Leif Davis latched onto Phillips’s radar-like delivery, but his header was high.
Butland’s season then plummeted to new depths in front of a thoroughly unsympathetic Kop midway – the cue to a relentless spell of intensity from back-in-character Leeds.
Nketiah almost converted from close in before Costa arrived right on cue to plant home a far-post header following a peach of a left-wing cross from Davis.
Phillips’s header almost won it in normal time, but Stoke applied the penalty sting.
Leeds boss Bielsa said: “The team played better in the second half than we did in the first.
“But overall, we didn’t play with enough clarity. We played much better in the second half.
“We had a physical difference in the team after the break.”
Leeds United: Casilla; Berardi, Phillips, Davis; Costa, Shackleton (White 45), McCalmont (Forshaw 45), Douglas; Bogusz, Clarke (Harrison 45), Nketiah. Substitutes unused: Miazek, Gotts, Alioski, Bamford.
Stoke City: Butland; Smith, Carter-Vickers, Batth, Indi, Ward; Woods (Duffy 90), Clucas, Ince (Cousins 84); Vokes, Campbell (Etebo 69). Substitutes unused: Davies, Hogan, Verlinden, Collins.
Referee: O Langford (West Midlands).