Grit and steel on show but Leeds United's Yorkshire derby with Sheffield United was all about quality - Graham Smyth's Verdict

A Yorkshire derby is often an opportunity to slap the words grit and steel down in great dollops all over the pre and post-match discussion.

Monday, 28th September 2020, 7:36 am
BY A NOSE - Patrick Bamford gave Leeds the slenderest of leads at Sheffield United late on, with his nose. Pic: James Hardisty

Sheffield United versus Leeds United is not like that.

The Whites' 1-0 win over the Blades had plenty of those earthy characteristics we like to associate with the county but it was quality that shone on the day. Premier League quality.

It's not that Chris Wilder and Marcelo Bielsa's teams lack the mentality needed for a full-blooded, no-nonsense derby game because both sides can run and tackle for England, never mind the White Rose.

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They can also play football that is interesting to watch. This was a fun game from start to finish and it was the technical skill level of the play in and around both boxes and the speed at which the teams transitioned from defence to attack that made it.

Grit and steel was evident, but not so much in crunching slide tackles. It was in Illan Meslier's refusal to be beaten, in Stuart Dallas' willingness to keep taking Leeds up the pitch at pace and Jack Harrison's persistence on the left flank.

It was his ninth cross of the afternoon, in the 88th minute, that was sent back in the direction from where it came by Patrick Bamford to give Leeds three points.

Harrison doesn't tend to stop running and if he did Bielsa would soon be in his ear, but the winger's boundless energy only got him into position to deliver, the quality of his technique made the goal.

STAR MAN - Illan Meslier made some world class saves in Leeds United's 1-0 win over Sheffield United. Pic: Getty

It was the best of Leeds' chances on the day but both sides created many opportunities, including a combined 32 shots.

Bielsa felt his side deserved the win, Wilder disagreed. Regardless it was tight and entertaining from start to finish.

Leeds, setting up with three at the back to combat the Blades' front two, put on an early show of playing out of the press, one-touch football taking them down the field to put Harrison in a position and a situation he should have done more with.

The Blades' ability to hare up the pitch at breakneck speed once in possession was never more evident than when referee Paul Tierney waved play on following Kalvin Phillips 'reducer' on David McGoldrick and a slick attack ended with an off-target John Lundstram shot.

Aside from that Phillips challenge, which was more clumsy than malicious, there wasn't much derby day needle to speak of, Mateusz Klich mischievously overcooking his pass to the waiting George Baldock for a Blades throw was about the height of it. It was just two teams going toe to toe with the football at their feet.

This wasn't end to end stuff, though. Leeds were the better side early and throughout the game had more possession, Sheffield United had spells where they took charge and they always looked dangerous.

Centre-half Chris Basham gave Leeds trouble when he came forward, dribbling past men and opening the game up and getting wide when possible to help create crossing opportunities.

The home side's penchant for getting down the flanks would have brought the opener had Meslier not produced his best save as a Leeds keeper to deny Lundstram's goalbound, first-time shot from Ben Osborn's low cross. It was the kind of save that doesn't look right or normal in real time because a goal is the natural order when a chance like that opens up. Replays did little to make it any more believable.

After a Bamford header that cleared the bar from one of those Harrison crosses and Stuart Dallas testing Aaron Ramsdale with the outside of his boot, Meslier was at it again, throwing out a firm left hand to palm George Baldock's drive over the top. How the sides went in level was bewildering, yet they did.

They were trading chances, although Leeds were missing something in the final third to really open the hosts up with any frequency.

The first 45 minutes bypassed Tyler Roberts and he was replaced by Rodrigo at half-time. What the Spaniard gave Leeds wasn't quite to the standards Pablo Hernandez has set as the Whites' first choice number 10, but it was better than anything we've seen from Rodrigo so far.

He involved himself heavily, getting far more touches than Roberts, passing the ball more often and producing more shots.

The substitute, who linked up well to give attacks more fluency, wasn't the only reason Leeds looked better in the second half. Dallas took on more and more responsibility for driving the play forward, Mateusz Klich had more influence the longer it went on and the Blades' front two seemed to fade.

Helder Costa and Bamford had shots saved, Dallas spotted space from halfway and took off on a diagonal run that Luke Ayling spotted and found, allowing the Ulsterman to round Ramsdale and shoot goalwards only for Basham to clear from the goalmouth.

With Ian Poveda coming on to add even more pace and energy, Leeds looked more and more ominous.

The Blades weren't done, however. A double change up front saw them regain a foothold and one of Wilder's replacements, Oliver McBurnie, should have scored from a corner that gave Leeds all manner of problems, but missed the ball. Jack Robinson arriving behind him could only touch the ball wide and it stayed 0-0.

A goal was going to arrive sooner or later and Leeds didn't let up in their pursuit of it.

Rodrigo was razor sharp in controlling the ball with his back to goal and firing it wide to Harrison who took a touch and curled in the perfect cross for Bamford to head past Ramsdale.

Leeds were ahead by a nose - Bamford admitted at full-time he'd scored with his beak and not his head - with time running out.

Liam Cooper instructed his team-mates to keep the ball, keen to cap his 200th appearance with a win, and they did that, by and large, for the five added minutes.

Whether you agreed with Wilder or not on who deserved the win, everyone can concur that games between these two neighbours belong to take place in the top flight. This derby is a bona fide Premier League game now and a great advert for Yorkshire, where the football is very good.