Leeds United 4 West Brom 0 - Phil Hay's verdict: Whites answer burn-out questions with resounding vigour as Baggies are put to the sword

Leeds United celebrate Patrick Bamford's second of the evening.Leeds United celebrate Patrick Bamford's second of the evening.
Leeds United celebrate Patrick Bamford's second of the evening.
Marcelo Bielsa’s exuberance rarely stretches beyond a quiet smile but unlike Tuesday, when the world was on his shoulders and Bielsa was pictured on his haunches, last night’s exhibition at Elland Road was no call for sombre contemplation.

That photo from Queens Park Rangers, of a deflated Bielsa’s staring hard at the floor for minutes on end, was his heart on his sleeve in one striking image but it is the last thing he or Leeds United would want to define their season; the antithesis of the stroke of brilliance from Pablo Hernandez which defined a surgical demolition of West Bromwich Albion.

Leeds have amassed several contenders for goal of the season under Bielsa and it is hard to say exactly where Hernandez’s finish will fall on the scale but as his 20-yard shot found the top corner with 16 seconds gone, it felt like the most critical United have scored.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A big occasion found a big player, waiting to answer big questions.

Pablo Hernandez opens the scoring at Elland Road after just 16 seconds.Pablo Hernandez opens the scoring at Elland Road after just 16 seconds.
Pablo Hernandez opens the scoring at Elland Road after just 16 seconds.

There were more asked of Leeds than was justified after their midweek loss at QPR, a night when first place in the Championship was there for the taking, but the club have been painting themselves as potential champions for months and something was needed to remind the division why.

Hernandez’s blinding strike served that purpose and set Leeds up for another Saturday morning at the top of the division. West Brom, supposed candidates for automatic promotion, looked beaten before Patrick Bamford clipped in a second goal in the 28th minute and were hidden in a thick cloud of dust when the striker dispatched a third after half-time.

Gjanni Alioksi’s 93rd-minute fourth was a luxury but Elland Road lapped it up; champagne football poured by the bucketload. Despite the wobble since Christmas, if wobble is the right word, Leeds are compelled to answer to no-one when they dish it out like this.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Bielsa’s faith in his himself, his project and his squad has been stoic before and was stoic in the 48 hours beforehand, even after a result at QPR which left him with a thousand-yard stare.

Leeds United's players celebrate after Pablo Hernandez's opener.Leeds United's players celebrate after Pablo Hernandez's opener.
Leeds United's players celebrate after Pablo Hernandez's opener.

Whatever came to him in that moment came out in spades last night, making Albion look like the play-offs are all they can aspire too.

Leeds have come too far, and with too much panache, to risk burning their fingers in that lottery.

Nothing said more about a man who is not for turning than Bielsa’s choice of players: the same team and the same bench for a third match in seven days.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Scrutiny of the energy of his squad – scrutiny which touched on the long-held belief that players who work under Bielsa drop off when the year is at its height – riled him earlier in the week and drew specific comment from him in the matchday programme, a medium through which Bielsa never picks a fight.

“I found (the questions) bemusing,” he said.

“We have problems but as a team we do not lack energy.”

It was there for him immediately as Liam Cooper, sporting a headband after the badly cut eye he sustained at QPR, set the tone with a crunching header to take the ball from West Brom after the kick-off.

Jack Harrison carried it forward and spotted the run of Hernandez who dipped into the depths of his technical class with a strike which was heading for Sam Johnstone’s top corner as soon as he hit it. The game was all of 16 seconds old.

West Brom were flummoxed by that and at a loss over how to quell Leeds’ intensity quickly. Bielsa has spoken about these moments before – the points where Leeds have their foot on the opposition’s throat, threatening more goals – and he, like everyone else, understood the necessity of a second against a team who score more freely than anyone in the league.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Tyler Roberts went looking for it, anticipating Hernandez’s pass in behind, but turned a shot straight into the clutches of Johnstone and Leeds’ tireless pressing made the traffic one way for the rest of the first half.

By the 28th minute, when Bamford struck, Albion were facing up to the promise of a hiding which duly arrived.

Their static defence watched with confused resignation as Bamford slipped onto a pass from Roberts and angled a shot into the far corner.

West Brom rarely joined the party and Kiko Casilla dealt with their only chance of note by palming Jay Rodriguez’s shot over his crossbar. Rodriguez played through the middle while Dwight Gayle hovered on the left flank, where Harvey Barnes had torn Leds to shreds at The Hawthorns in November, and it was evident from Barnes’ absence that Darren Moore lost a prime string from his bow when Leicester City recalled him in January.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Albion’s midfield were aiming at nothing more than distant bodies in green and yellow, with no success.

A complete first half preceded a more uncertain start to the second in which Leeds occupied the middle ground between trying not to invite Albion onto them and trying not to leave themselves wide open either.

Hal Robson-Kanu nodded a header just over after Casilla came and failed to reach a free-kick from Gareth Barry, who looked his many years and was lucky not to receive a second booking for a trip on Roberts.

Barry made way just after the hour, protected from a red card, but it barely mattered.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In the 64th minute, an in-the-mood Roberts ate away at West Brom again and set up Bamford whose low finish wrongfooted Johnstone at his near post.

Moore’s next humiliation was to find himself snaring a pitch invader who weaved past a number of stewards and ran into Albion’s technical area and there was more suffering still as Alioski ran into tap home in the third minute of injury-time.

Trying asking Moore what burn-out under Bielsa feels like.