Eight points clear; forget West Brom; Liam Cooper's injury situation and the emergence of Oliver Casey - Leeds United Talking Points

AFTER seeing Leeds United further strengthen their automatic promotion prospects with victory at Huddersfield Town, Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from the 2-0 win at the John Smith's Stadium.

By Lee Sobot
Sunday, 8th December 2019, 1:14 pm
Updated Sunday, 8th December 2019, 1:15 pm
FLYING EIGHT CLEAR: Pablo Hernandez celebrates his strike that firmly put Huddersfield Town to the sword in Saturday's Championship Yorkshire derby. Photo by George Wood/Getty Images.
FLYING EIGHT CLEAR: Pablo Hernandez celebrates his strike that firmly put Huddersfield Town to the sword in Saturday's Championship Yorkshire derby. Photo by George Wood/Getty Images.

Six-straight wins and eight points clear

After a rather disappointing first half, all that really mattered for Leeds following Saturday's Yorkshire derby was that they left with a sixth win in succession.

Better still, the triumph saw a five-point gap to the teams outside of the automatic promotion places extended to eight points with third-placed Fulham ending a run of four-straight wins by losing 2-1 at home to Bristol City who are now level on points with them in fourth.

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Fifth-placed Nottingham Forest would go one point ahead of both if winning their game in hand but Sabri Lamouchi's side are still very inconsistent which cannot be said about United who are now unbeaten in nine.

And whatever happens with West Brom's Sunday clash at home to Swansea City and whether Leeds end the weekend top or otherwise, the gap to third is really the only one that matters.

Nobody will be getting carried away with last season's late collapse in mind and with the campaign still three games short of the halfway stage but it's impossible to ignore the potential significance of an eight-point gap back to third and Leeds are now no bigger than 1-7 to finish in the top two.

That looks way too short and Betfair amazingly go 1-14 but if United can pick up victories in their next two games at home to Hull City and Cardiff City this week - as they should on form - then those odds will only get shorter.

Fulham have tough back-to-back away games at Preston North End and Brentford next on the agenda whereas Bristol City have home clashes against Millwall and Blackburn Rovers in their next two but and it will be fascinating to see Fulham's reaction ahead of United's clash at Craven Cottage four days before Christmas.

Missing Kalvin Phillips and Liam Cooper's injury

The fact that United managed to keep an incredible 11th Championship clean sheet from just 20 league games was all the more impressive considering centre-back and skipper Liam Cooper was forced to miss the game with a calf strain.

Whilst not quite at last season's ridiculous casualty levels, that meant five players out with Kalvin Phillips suspended plus Tyler Roberts, Adam Forshaw and Jamie Shackleton all injured.

It has to be remembered that the Terriers had eight players out and Leeds were definitely helped by their wasteful finishing and some smart saves by Kiko Casilla who was one of United's best performers along with probably Luke Ayling and Gaetano Berardi which says a lot with them all being defenders.

Definitely not a vintage Whites display but Gjanni Alioski's rocket and a lovely move finished by Pablo Hernandez got the job done and the question now is when will Cooper return as there is no denying his importance to the Whites, as a leader as well as a defender.

Head coach Marcelo Bielsa said afterwards that he couldn't see the situation changing with Cooper for Tuesday's clash against Hull but that United would see what the possibilities were for the weekend clash against Cardiff.

The sooner he is back the better but Berardi is currently producing the goods as a very able deputy and Leeds will now be hugely boosted by the return from suspension of Phillips who was unquestionably massively missed in the deep lying central midfield role.

Ben White and Mateusz Klich did their best to deputise of sorts with Klich dropping deeper than usual at times and with White often stepping up from the back line.

But Phillips really helps Leeds tick as a central defensive midfielder and his return is excellent news for United and bad news for Hull who will, however, be no pushovers with Jarrod Bowen already on 15 goals for the season after Saturday's match-winning brace against Stoke City.

Oliver Casey a new option in defence

Even with five players out, eyebrows were certainly raised by the appearance of young duo Oliver Casey and Bryce Hosannah on the Whites bench with Casey then even handed his debut as an 85th-minute substitute for Mateusz Klich.

Five minutes against a Terriers side who were already beaten is no time to form any sort of conclusion but there is no denying that 19-year-old Casey looked confident, assured and composed at centre-back and the onlooking Danny Mills even drew comparisons between Casey and Ben White.

Some compliment but you can see where Mills is coming from and Casey's height at six-foot-two could also be very useful to a Leeds side who are still having problems defending set pieces.

Too early to say a star is born but United's Academy continues to produce gems and long term Casey could well be another.