A FOOTBALLING ‘obsessive’ whose daily pursuit of excellence is clearly relentless, it would be doing Marcelo Bielsa a major disservice to suggest that the Carabao Cup possesses limited importance.
When you are as immersed in your craft as much as Leeds United’s head coach is; pleasure derived from victory is always transitory. It is quickly parked before attention swiftly switches to the next assignment; the next fix.
One particular job done by early evening on Saturday, basking in the glow of his side’s magisterial Championship win at Derby County plainly did not interest the assiduous Argentinean. It is not his style and never will be.
For him, the only thing that mattered was seeing a much-changed Whites side show similar individual and collective merit and standards three days on in a fresh competition.
An omnipresent figure sat on his upturned bucket in the technical area, Bielsa – detached and studious – left the excitement to others as Leeds helped themselves to their third victory of his beguiling tenure. This one was not without imperfections, but there were facets to savour too.
On a night when two players in Jamal Blackman and Tyler Roberts were handed maiden appearances for the club and four others in Patrick Bamford, Lewis Baker, Jack Harrison and Jamie Shackleton lined up for full debuts, Bielsa will have seen elements to his fastidious satisfaction.
Bamford’s unerring 27th-minute finish to open his account for the club will have been duly noted. And it will have been simply impossible to ignore another dazzling performance from Samuel Saiz, who carried on from where he left off at the weekend.
After setting up £10m arrival Bamford for the hosts opener, the classy Spaniard helped himself to a sweet goal eight minutes later.
It was Saiz’s first strike at Elland Road since last September and again showcased his consummate ball skills – and after more tricks in the second half, he was afforded a standing ovation when he left the fray.
Second best by a distance in the first period, it was to Bolton’s credit that they showed much more daring-do on the restart, with reward coming by virtue of a precision low shot from Erhun Oztumer to reduce the deficit early in the second half.
It could have yielded further profit with Jonathan Grounds blazing over a great chance to level and Yannick Wildschut being denied by Blackman as Bolton punctured one or two holes in the United rearguard.
Some episodes of defensive sloppiness will not have been missed by Bielsa, but at the other end, his side’s energy levels, high pressing and movement provided plenty for the home supporters among a near 20,000 crowd to enthuse about as United avoided just a second-ever exit at this stage of the competition – and first on home soil.
Once again, Saiz – one of just three players who started at Pride Park – showed a distinct liking for this particular competition, following a hat-trick in the corresponding round last season against Port Vale.
His impish movement and sublime touch bore the imprint of a player at ease with his game and surroundings again and some stellar contributions lit up another accomplished and comfortable half.
Many supporters may have missed Lewis Baker almost profit inside the first 30 seconds for Leeds and fire the hosts in front, but once they assembled in their seats, the fare they witnessed possessed high class moments, mostly at the dancing feet of Saiz.
An audacious chip which sent Bamford clear should have seen the forward fire United in front – but he inexplicably dragged the ball wide in the first quarter of an hour – but the same axis had their moment. Supplied by Saiz, Bamford did the rest with a instinctive left-footed low drive flying past Remi Matthews – and the former Middlesbrough man was off and running.
Another succulent Saiz dink over the Wanderers defence then fell nicely for Jack Harrison, but he drove wide before the Spaniard registered a rare home goal.
With Bolton stranded upfield following an attacking throw, Leeds swarmed forward with Baker eventually teeing up the supporting Saiz, who cut inside before drilling the ball home.
Leeds made harder work of the game on the restart, with Oztumer’s strike providing a jolt before sweet interplay by Bamford and Saiz almost resulted in a killer third, with Matthews denying the former.
Bolton persisted, but progression belonged to Leeds, who recorded a third successive win in all competitions for the first time since Boxing Day.
Leeds United: Blackman; Shackleton, Jansson, Ayling, Pearce; Phillips; Roberts (Klich 68), Baker, Saiz (Alioski 69), Harrison; Bamford (Roofe 80). Unused substitutes: Huffer, Berardi, De Bock, Shaughnessy.
Bolton Wanderers: Matthews; Little, Hobbs, Wilson, Grounds (Taylor 74); O’Neil, Vela; Donaldson (Noone 57), Oztumer, Wildschut; Hall (Magennis 65). Unused substitutes: Alnwick, Taylor, Beevers, Olkowski, Pritchard.
Referee: A Haines (Tyne and Wear).