Leeds United 2 ( de Wijs 73 og, Alioski 82))
Hull City 0
Another victory, another clean sheet, 11 points clear of the side in 3rd place and even 9 points clear of that 3rd place if Nottingham Forest were to win their game in hand. Blimey, it’s nearly done isn’t it?
Well obviously that’s plain daft talk, this is Leeds United after all and we’ve been closer than this before and still managed to snatch disaster from the jaws of elation. But what we can say is that just at this moment Leeds are doing everything they need to do and what we are doing is proving to be too good for any other side to cope with. The expectation is that we are good enough to score against every side we play.
Another one tried hard last night; Hull City are the best side, as measured by the current table, that we’ve played since beating Blackburn over a month ago, but still they weren’t good enough or maybe fit enough to cope with our relentless game. Hull walloped Preston and only narrowly lost to West Brom in recent games and yet they hardly troubled a Leeds side that really does seem to be in the groove at the moment. The first half saw not a single shot on target from either side which is perhaps still the one disappointment we see every game from our own lads and there were opportunities. Patrick Bamford continues to look out of touch in front of goal and wasted one break with a back heel when he had simpler passes on either side and then having made the run and out-jumped a defender he put a poor header wide of the post. Helder Costa looked pacey and dangerous and he came close when a defender’s boot just deflected his shot that was goal bound and Pablo Hernandez should have at least tested George Long in the Hull goal when he jinked past a defender but curled his shot agonisingly over the angle of post and bar. As I’ve said all season, if we could hit the target more often, we’d be even further ahead at the top of the table than we actually are! Leeds were thus very much the dominant force in the first half but Hull were still in it.
The thing is, Hull were only in it because they were trying to match the Leeds pressing game with a spirited imitation of it by their own side; the problem is, they had another 45 minutes to go and they were already showing signs of fatigue – often using every break in play to waste time and take a breather while Leeds were anxious to get going again. Another appalling referee, David Webb, didn’t help matters either; as we were constantly asking “why the big paws?” from the Tigers every time… sorry, couldn’t resist!
As the second half progressed, the Tigers ability to compete with our fitness declined rapidly and there was an expectation that we would break through eventually. Not before Hull themselves went close though as Gaetano Berardi intervened to make a crucial tackle on the edge of the box, slowing Hull enough and then allowing Casilla to push a shot away. Berardi was playing perhaps his best game ever in a Leeds shirt and looked rock solid even against the giant bean pole of a striker Tom Eaves who’d been christened by the Leeds fans “a sh** Andy Carol” due to his look-a-like tied back hair. Costa had the ball in the net but was flagged offside and by this time Alioski had been sent on for Jack Harrison but then after 73 minutes we finally got the rub of the green you always need in games like this; it’s not luck but it is the rub of the green that rewards our efforts and fitness.
It was a Bielsaball move, with Casilla throwing out to Ayling, Ayling finding Hernandez and then his delicious ball outside the full back giving Costa the chance to show his pace to get in behind the backline. A sharp low cross and the slide of de Wijs deflected the ball past Long inside the near post. The second goal was very similar, nine minutes later, as Bamford and Casilla combined to block a header from a Hull corner almost on our own line. It was another warning that we do have an Achilles Heel in the air from set pieces but Kalvin Phillips this time came away with the ball and then pushed it to Klich who motored down the inside right channel, with Bamford and Costa keeping pace with him in the centre. Klich went all the way to the right corner of the box before sliding a perfect ball low across to where Bamford was still steaming in. The bad news is that with 8 yards of net to aim at, Bamford still couldn’t hit the target, finding instead the right hand post but as we held our head in our hands the ball rebounded to Alioski who made no mistake as he fired it home from an almost impossible angle with only a yard to aim at. Both Leeds goals were from quick counter attacks and I’m convinced it is our fitness that is counting late in games to allow us to break as we do with the opposition often stranded at the wrong end of the pitch.
So, in the end it was comfortable enough even though looking at the stats our striking efficiency of 2 from 12 on target was hardly different from the Tigers’ 2 from 11 and both sides won 5 corners. The thing is our opportunities were far and away clearer chances than theirs and, in truth, we should probably have put a couple more of them away.
Nothing is won yet as we’ve said before, the gap to third place is a nice comfort blanket to have for the inevitable slip up we will face at some point although it does look more and more likely that, when it comes, it will only be down to a piece of bad fortune as it’s hard to see any side being able to outplay us. Last season don’t forget we also put together a run of seven wins on the trot at exactly this time of year before messing up after Christmas with 5 defeats in 7. Even this far ahead of the pack, another run like that would have us scrapping with them again.
Leeds Utd Hull City
Possession 63% 37%
Shots 12 11
On Target 2 2
Corners 5 5
Fouls Committed 8 11