Hull City grabbed a tiger by the tail, Leeds United sent a message and the grim backdrop fell away - Graham Smyth's Verdict

If it's true that a change is as good as a rest, then woe betide the 10 teams who will attempt to come between Leeds United and the Premier League.

By Graham Smyth
Sunday, 1st March 2020, 5:55 am

After the Hull City game on Saturday, Leeds have 10 games remaining and what happened at the KCOM Stadium in the day's early kick-off was not good news for any of their upcoming opponents.

What United served up, for the vast majority of their 4-0 victory, was something a bit different. It was pleasant, refreshing and - whisper it - enjoyable, even in the final stages, when United hearts are ordinarily rising towards mouths.

For once they took multiple chances, showing a clinical side that has been missing all too often this season.

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After three consecutive 1-0 wins, it was a joyous occasion, unless of course you were sat in the home section. Although given how many Leeds fans got up, en masse, early in the game to leave their seats in the home section to march triumphantly into the away end to join their travelling brothers and sisters, that's not strictly true.

And nor is it quite true to say United got what they deserved because if the scoreline had truly reflected the performance, particularly everything that followed the half-time interval, it would have been much uglier for Hull and the number of goals scored by Leeds would have been in brackets, written in capitals, on the vidiprinter.

The crossbar came to the Tigers' rescue. So did keeper George Long.

But for all his heroics and the help from his woodwork, he was still on the end of a scoreline Leeds have only dished out on one other occasion this season.

Leeds United celebrated a 4-0 win at Hull City with goals from Luke Ayling, Pablo Hernandez and Tyler Roberts (2) (Pic: Tony Johnson)

They don't often make it this easy on their supporters, or head coach Marcelo Bielsa, who admitted after that age and experience have done nothing to calm his touchline anxiety.

Even Bielsa could relax however, as the fourth official held up his board to signal three minutes of time added on, because this game was done and dusted long before that.

It was a rout. It threatened to come early, with a fifth minute Luke Ayling opener, a shot from distance that deflected wickedly off Callum Elder, and a rasping Pablo Hernandez shot that cracked the bar three minutes later.

Hull fans, who haven't seen their side win a league game since Janury 1, could have been forgiven for giving it up as a bad job and heading to The Deep before the 10th minute.

But they didn't give up on their team and the team didn't give up on the game, not in the first half anyway. Nothing really happened for a long time, for most of the half in truth, but when you're facing Leeds that's somewhat of a feather in your cap.

What Hull did, in attempting to swarm Kalvin Phillips, back in the line-up after missing the Boro game through injury but not yet looking entirely comfortable or sprinting around with his usual pep, went a long way toward stopping the visitors from running riot and although the Tigers were tame in attack, Bielsa was moved to make a tactical switch. Stuart Dallas abandoned his left-back role and joined the midfield, giving Leeds a 3-1-3-3 look.

Nothing noteworthy took place until minute 37, Kevin Stewart shooting wide after a Phillips' giveaway in midfield. Leeds were not playing vintage stuff but the fact that 19-year-old Championship debutant Illan Meslier had so little to do in goal said a lot about the toothlessness of the hosts.

When he was called into action, to claim high balls or crosses, he did so with a minimum of fuss. His kicking wasn't quite up to scratch, not a patch on what he produced against Arsenal in the FA Cup, but it mattered little as Hull gained no advantage.

As the two sides went off at the break, the game needed another goal to bring it back to life.

Hernandez obliged two minutes after the restart, showcasing again that a player of his ability and skill can produce match-impacting contributions without putting together their finest 90-minute performance.

The Spaniard had been a little off his usual tempo in possession but still popped up in a mysterious amount of space to take a Helder Costa pass and finish neatly past Long.

It was a simple goal, with a quick break down the left, a nice ball into the area from Jack Harrison who was, quite frankly, too good for Hull throughout and a good touch and pass from Costa to find Hernandez. The effect the goal had on the game was simple too, it knocked the stuffing out of a team barely clinging to their last ounce of confidence and it puffed out the chests of a team who looked in the mood to do serious damage.

Leeds, not the Tigers, were purring.

Neat flicks, nutmegs, dribbles, one-touch passing moves and pace took white shirts beyond the men in orange and into space where they could really inflict pain.

They put together moves that deserved goals, that begged to be finished off in style. Costa got on the end of one, again predominantly left-sided in origin, shimmed to shift the ball from his feet and defenders from his path but Long spoiled it with a save.

He kept Mateusz Klich out too, then Harrison curled a beauty onto the bar.

Hull's strife really began when Patrick Bamford, a player out of sorts, was replaced by Tyler Roberts.

But before the Leeds substitute could make an impact, a home one very nearly did, Norbert Balogh slamming a shot off the outside of Meslier's post.

One way traffic soon resumed, Long palming a Harrison shot wide and beating away Costa's powerful volley.

Leeds were electric and Hull looked fried.

With nine minutes to go the Roberts show began, the striker capping one of the best team moves of the season, a move that started with Harrison and Dallas bypassing the press with precision before pace took over, Roberts playing it right to Costa who found Klich free, the Pole slotting the ball into Roberts' path for a thumping finish.

It was devastating. And still they came.

Klich almost lazily curled his foot around a cross from the right, Roberts rose and headed it back across goal to leave Long in the back of his net, beleaguered and beaten and leave Leeds fans wanting to see much more of Roberts in this role, in this form.

The grim backdrop to the game, an eight-game ban for Kiko Casilla over racism allegations, announced bizarrely late on a Friday evening, just 17 hours before kick-off, fell away. It was all about the game for a blissful 45 minutes.

Hull had grabbed the tiger by the tail the night before with an ill-advised barb dressed as a jokey tweet, containing a 'timely reminder' that this game was dedicated to anti-racism campaign Kick it Out.

And although Leeds responded in the social media tit-for-tat skirmish, it was on the field that Hull City paid the price.

Football, for a change, did all the talking and the message was loud and clear: Leeds are on the march.