Leon Wobschall: Leeds United and Middlesbrough displaying the solidity to succeed

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IT was Sir Alex Ferguson who once said: ‘attack wins you games and defence wins you titles.’

As ever with a lot of things in football, the truth is probably somewhere in between.

Leeds United goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell: Making big impression.

Leeds United goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell: Making big impression.

For Championship promotion aspirants Leeds United, the lauding of ‘Bielsa-ball’ extended well beyond the boundaries of the Broad Acres as summer turned to autumn. Rightfully so.

Ruthless and ultra stylish early-season attacking performances blew away Stoke City, Derby County and Norwich City and the footballing enlightenment was viewed as visionary under a managerial doyen in Marcelo Bielsa.

Goals were plundered and rivals reputations’ shattered in swashbuckling fashion.

Some vestiges of reality have crept in since as they were always likely to. Blackburn provided Leeds with a bloody nose and West Brom’s heavy blow threatened to be a haymaker.

So far, Peacock-Farrell has posted one shut-out more than an England international in Jack Butland and three more than Sheffield United rival Dean Henderson, widely considered to be one of the best young custodians in the country.

Leon Wobschall

Birmingham at home saw also a rival inflict a lesson in the Championship’s streetwise arts.

But thus far, Leeds cannot be accused of failing to possess a strong jaw, certainly more sound than last season in the final analysis.

For all the importance of style and artistic merit, the Championship is all about finding a way, toughing it out. Whatever it takes, certainly at this time of year when the winter grind sets in.

Leeds’s easy-on-the-eye football may have been feted. But no less important is a concession of just 17 goals in 20 matches, with only Middlesbrough (13) having conceded fewer.

Keeping it clean: Middlesbrough goalkeeper Darren Randolph.

Keeping it clean: Middlesbrough goalkeeper Darren Randolph.

A fair bit has been made about Boro’s ‘they-shall-not-pass’ defensive statistics, which do admittedly grab the attention.

But it will not be lost upon those who like their devil to be in the detail that the Teessiders’ recording of 11 clean sheets so far is just two in front of Leeds.

The Whites also being a side who have scored 11 more league goals than Boro, as it stands.

In the Championship shut-out stakes, ‘rookie’ goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell (eight clean-sheets in 19 league games in 2018-19) trails just Boro’s Darren Randolph (11 in 20 games) and Nottingham Forest’s Costel Pantilimon (nine in 20 games).

No mean feat for someone who has been a regular at second-tier level for just nine months.

So far, Peacock-Farrell has posted one shut-out more than an England international in Jack Butland and three more than Sheffield United rival Dean Henderson, widely considered to be one of the best young custodians in the country.

It takes art and durability to be successful in the Championship and, of course, the stamina - something that Leeds ultimately lacked last season and under Garry Monk in the previous campaign.

Plenty will be revealed in the next six weeks, with it noted by many that Leeds have significantly testing trips to Villa Park and the City Ground to come on the horizon and welcome Derby early next year.

For their part, Boro visit Pride Park on New Year’s Day and another firm promotion candidate in Sheffield United have pressing home dates with West Brom and Derby County before 2018 is out.

After Saturday’s high-stakes televised Championship games at Bramall Lane and the Riverside Stadium, the festive fun and intrigue towards the top continues on Friday when West Brom host in-form Villa, who are starting to get serious.

Meanwhile, Derby will have faced Nottingham Forest, the Blades, Norwich and Boro by the time the January 1 action ends.

Leaders Norwich are right in the thick of it with the visit of Derby on December 28 coming two days after a spicy Boxing Day home game with Forest.

Plenty can happen and most definitely will in this compelling, helter-skelter division. Taking a punch or two is part of the pugilistic, dog-eat-dog Championship tapestry, but it is getting up quickly which truly separates the men from the boys.