STEVE BRUCE, the Sheffield Wednesday manager, has hailed Marcelo Bielsa for transforming Leeds United into a “very good team who look like they are going to get promoted”.
The Elland Road club stole a march on rivals Sheffield United in the quest to book a return to the Premier League.
Their fitness levels and intensity they play at made things very difficult for us.Steve Bruce
Leeds’ 1-0 victory over the Owls, coming a couple of hours after the Blades had conceded a stoppage-time equaliser at home to Millwall, meant the West Yorkshire club extended their advantage to three points with just four games to play.
“Leeds are chalk and cheese to what they were last season,” Bruce, fresh from reaching the milestone of 900 games as a manager, told The Yorkshire Post. “The transformation in the last 12 months is there for all to see.
“For a team that finished mid-table, the turnaround is quite remarkable. Fair play to Leeds.
“There is (Patrick) Bamford who has come in. But, basically, this is the same personnel. I take my hat off to him (Bielsa). A breath of fresh air, that is what he has been.
“A very, very good outfit. I have seen them a few times. Their fitness levels and intensity they play at made things very difficult for us.”
Jack Harrison netted the only goal of a derby that saw Leeds have 28 efforts on goal to just eight from the visitors. Keiren Westwood was key in keeping the game in the balance for so long, the Owls goalkeeper pulling off a string of fine saves.
“We have lost to a very, very good team who – in my opinion – look like they are going to get promoted,” added Bruce, whose side remain six points adrift of the play-offs.
“I could not fault our effort and endeavour. But there is no question that the better team won. We simply could not cope at times. The goalkeeper kept us in it. It was one of those where you hold your hand up and say, ‘We were beaten by the better team’.”
Bielsa, for his part, was keen to stress plenty more work needs to be done if Leeds are to end their absence from the Premier League after 15 years.
The Easter weekend brings a Good Friday game at home to Wigan Athletic and then a trip to Brentford, while Sheffield United host Nottingham Forest before heading to Hull City a week today.
“There are 12 points to play for and we only have three points over them,” said Bielsa. “It is not a big difference. We played a good game because we defended well and attacked well, too.
“We created chances to score but we only scored one goal. My objective is to improve our level of efficiency (in front of goal).”
As Bielsa works on ways to make his attack more clinical, Bruce admits Wednesday’s chances of making the top six are receding.
“We don’t give up,” added the Owls chief, who is waiting to hear the extent of the Achilles injury suffered by Adam Reach. “But there are too many teams around us. If we were just catching one, then it would be okay. But we are catching one or two. It will be difficult.”
A host of players, including Westwood and striker Gary Hooper, are out of contract at Hillsborough this summer. Wednesday were under a transfer embargo last year so finances are likely to be a factor in who goes or stays.
Bruce added: “There are a lot of big decisions to make on a lot of players over the next few weeks. I am under no illusions about that.
“There are discussions to be had at boardroom level. These take place at every club in the summer.
“When you see Westwood and the form he is in, of course I would like him to stay.”
Match report: Page 3