THERE was plenty of apprehension that an out-of-form and injury-plagued Leeds United side were heading for a Friday the 13th hiding at high-flying Aston Villa.
Against thriving automatic promotion contenders, Leeds were seeking just their second win since Boxing Day and only a third victory for Paul Heckingbottom as Whites’ head coach.
The wait for that next win continues, but Villa failed to dish out the hammering predicted with Leeds again guilty of squandering chances in their own purple patch in the second half.
With nine Leeds players injured or banned, including a raft of centre-backs, Villa looked likely to run riot after dominating the opening exchanges and taking a 29th-minute lead through Lewis Grabban ,who easily headed home Jack Grealish’s cross.
But United held firm and offered promise for the future by creating several good chances after the break though the hosts crucially already had the goal they needed to move two points off second place. Villa had begun on the front foot, but Grabban fired well wide before United were only denied an opening goal when Sam Johnstone tipped Gjanni Alioski’s fierce effort over the bar.
Villa gradually began to turn the screw and Matthew Pennington, back from injury, and Stuart Dallas were forced to scramble clear a dangerous cross from ex-Leeds man Robert Snodgrass.
Jonathan Kodjia wasted an opening down the left when firing straight at visiting goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell, who produced a strong save to keep out a curling 20-yard effort from Snodgrass. United’s fans probably feared the worst when a foul on Snodgrass gave Villa a free-kick on the edge of the box, but the Scottish international thumped his effort into the wall and ran the follow up attempt out of play.
However, the Villa pressure was mounting and Leeds caved in one minute before the half-hour mark when Grabban nodded a header across Peacock-Farrell into the bottom left corner.
Villa continued to attack and Peacock-Farrell held firm to stop a curling effort from Grealish before Joshua Onomah wasted another opportunity by blazing over.
Young left-back Tom Pearce tangled with Kodjia in the area, but referee Tony Harrington waved away Villa’s claims for a spot-kick.
Despite only holding a one-goal advantage,Villa appeared to be cruising and Heckingbottom opted to send on Spanish playmaker Samu Saiz for Caleb Ekuban during the half-time break.
United immediately improved and after Pablo Hernandez had blazed an effort over, Villa’s Glenn Whelan was well placed to head Kalvin Phillips’s volley off the line.
Snodgrass fired another free-kick into the defensive wall, but United were on top and Ronaldo Vieira fizzed a powerful shot over the bar from another cleared corner.
A reminder of the Villa threat was provided just after the hour when Peacock-Farrell twice thwarted Kodjia from close range.
Leeds were soon back on the attack, but Roofe took too long to shoot after a splendid cross from Saiz.
But Villa weathered the Whites’ storm and the hosts would have doubled their lead in the 76th minute but for a brilliant save from Peacock-Farrell with his legs to deny Adomah.
Pennington subsequently produced a superb last-ditch tackle as substitute Scott Hogan looked to pull the trigger when clean through on goal.
Leeds looked for one last rally in three minutes of stoppage- time, but Villa had done enough to record a victory that took them within two points off second with Leeds lumbering in 14th place.
Aston Villa: Johnstone, Elmohamady, Chester, Jedinak, Taylor, Snodgrass, Whelan, Onomah (Samba 85), Grealish, Grabban (Hogan 77), Kodjia (Adomah 67). Unused Substitutes: Bunn, Bree, Lansbury, Hourihane.
Leeds United: Peacock-Farrell, Pearce, Pennington, O’Connor, Dallas, Vieira, Phillips, Alioski (Grot 66), Hernandez, Roofe (Lasogga 78), Ekuban (Saiz 45). Unused substitutes: Lonergan, Anita, Struijk, O’Kane.
Referee: Tony Harrington (Cleveland).