Impatience, officiating advice and Orta's orchestration - what you missed in Leeds United's rout of Stoke City

Leeds United are playing enough of a waiting game in the Championship run-in thanks to the fixture arrangement, so it's no wonder there were impatient looks cast around Elland Road as kick-off against Stoke City was delayed.

Friday, 10th July 2020, 5:47 am
ROUT - Captain Liam Cooper scored a fine third for Leeds United. He later came off to a standing ovation from the directors box at Elland Road. Pic: Jonathan Gawthorpe

The Whites are always on the tele and fans are by now well accustomed to changes to the schedule.

Their prominence in Sky's plans for the behind-closed-doors games has meant they've already had to play a day later than promotion rivals Brentford three times.

This weekend the Bees kick off 25 hours before Leeds and the following midweek will also feature a day's delay between Brentford's game against Preston and Leeds' derby with Barnsley.

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It's yet to be confirmed, but Leeds' trip to Derby next Saturday is expected to be pushed back to the Sunday, giving Brentford the honour of going first once again.

So you could forgive the frowns just after 5pm tonight when, with tension already thick in the air, referee Darren Bond looked for the signal to start proceedings and just kept looking.

In reality, it was probably only a delay of a matter of seconds but Leeds have somewhere to go and they're in a hurry, so it quickly became excrutiating and Marcelo Bielsa had the look of a man whose bewilderment could soon turn into something more combustible.

Once underway, Leeds, spurred on by a cry of 'Vamos Leeds, together' from one-man-supporters-club and director of football Victor Orta, took just under 30 seconds to put Stoke under pressure and create a chance - Tyler Roberts' bringing a fine save from Jack Butland.

As the first half developed into a pattern, Leeds attacking and Stoke defending, the opposing management teams settled into a rhythm of their own, taking alternate turns to enquire, pester or vent at fourth official Matthew Donohue.

One flash-point, if you could call it that, saw Donohue given earache from the Leeds bench as Helder Costa hit the turf on a counter attack. But the tension never amounted to much, Bielsa putting out a placatory and apologetic hand in the direction of opposite number Michael O'Neill seconds later, perhaps in recognition that the referee had correctly interpreted the situation after all.

The absence of fans is perhaps one reason why tempers are yet to really fray in the way one might expect during such a fraught finale to the season. So much has been at stake for all of the teams involved in Leeds' games since the restart, but when there is no baying crowd to heighten the emotions, anger appears to subside quickly.

The crowdies that have replaced supporters give the stands a more aesthetically pleasing look at Elland Road, although some repairs might be needed to one in the Norman Hunter South Stand goal after Kalvin Phillips' first corner was cleared straight into he, she or its face.

There is a quietness in the grounds - the crowd noise you hear on broadcasts is not replicated in the stadium - which allows you to pick up the advice offered to officials by various players.

Luke Ayling was quick to make his services available to one of Bond's assistants in this fixture, reminding him that his flag should go up PDQ, or in words to that effect, when a free-kick wasn't awarded, Costa the perceived victim once again.

The Portuguese winger was felled again later in the half, this time inside the box and this time a foul was awarded. Mateusz Klich took the penalty and Leeds were 1-0 up going into the break.

It said much about Stoke's performance that most of the half-time consternation at Elland Road was down to the inclusion in the televised coverage of the song used to mock the Whites by opposition fans, among Sky's crowd noise. Leeds, as it happened, weren't falling apart again at all and with Pablo Hernandez on for the second half, took Stoke apart.

As the half progressed Leeds' superiority grew until they were out of sight, four goals up with plenty of time left to really rout the Potters.

The directors box were lapping it up, Orta orchestrating each standing ovation as the team gathered on the touchline for a gratuitous drinks break, or as players trotted off to be substituted.

Stuart Dallas got one, as did Klich. Every Leeds player who came off received a salute. The manner in which they walked off the pitch, jobs done, was in stark contrast to a bewildered looking Nick Powell. The Stoke man shook his head ruefully, as if wondering what it was that had hit him and his team-mates like a truck in a one-way second half.

And still Bielsa roared his men on. There was no let up. There never is. "Again," he cried. "Kalvin, very strong," he implored as the midfielder lined up a free-kick.

By the time Bond blew his final whistle, Leeds had done as their boss had asked and scored their fifth, Patrick Bamford completing the humiliation with a fine finish to cap a good performance. He made the international symbol for beard, pointing to the posh seats, in a tribute to Orta.

The Spaniard, possibly by virtue of expending so much energy each and every time Leeds scored, was relatively restrained with his full-time celebration. But he did share a moment with a Luke Ayling, who spotted Orta's air-punch and flashed a smile as wide as the West Stand.

It was all smiles for the hosts. It was a thoroughly entertaining evening. One worth waiting for.