Reading 0 Leeds United 3 - Phil Hay's verdict: Royals victory sets up Yorkshire derby show-stopper with Sheffield United

Leeds United celebrate Pablo Hernandez's second goal at Reading.Leeds United celebrate Pablo Hernandez's second goal at Reading.
Leeds United celebrate Pablo Hernandez's second goal at Reading.
Marcelo Bielsa wanted tunnel vision last night and Leeds United’s head coach got it but even his mind, or part of his soul, must have moved in the direction of Saturday lunchtime once Mateusz Klich and Pablo Hernandez dealt with business at Reading.

Sheffield United kept up their end of the bargain, hanging on to beat Brentford at Bramall Lane while Leeds were filling their boots at the Madejski Stadium, and Elland Road has a show-stopper of a Yorkshire derby in front of it; midweek fixtures wrapped up, making way for the main event.

Bielsa did not want to contemplate it on Monday, a game of first-versus-third which cannot fail to dictate the make-up of the Championship’s top two, and his discipline in dealing with Reading laid the ground for the most crucial 72 hours of his tenure as head coach. Barring an unforeseen surge from beneath them, Leeds or Sheffield United are going up. The promotion picture might yet find room for them both.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The table has Leeds at the top of it this morning, though Norwich City’s game in hand at home to Hull City tonight could leave the division as it was before kick-off yesterday. No quarter is being given anywhere and Leeds turned the screw by sweeping Reading away inside a sublime first half.

Klich began the procession with 14 minutes gone, scoring at the end of a some classic Bielsa-ball made good by Patrick Bamford’s canny dummy, and two unerring finishes from Hernandez – his second a minute before the interval – made easy work of a second away slog in four days. Leeds were made to graft at Bristol City over the weekend, examined defensively without ever facing the Alamo, but Reading ran up the white flag as soon as Klich punished them at close range. Bielsa will have no expectation of Chris Wilder’s players doing the same.

Those with long enough memories will relate Saturday’s derby to the spring of 1990, when Leeds and Sheffield United were going at each other at the top of the second division. Gordon Strachan scored twice, dragging Leeds forward as Strachan always did, and a 4-0 rout was signed off with the magical words from commentator John Boyd urging Gary Speed to “get one yourself son”. Speed obliged with a low finish across Simon Tracey.

Leeds had work to do in spite of that result and it was far from fatal for Sheffield United, who followed them up on the final day of the season, but the psychology of it mattered and the outcome on Saturday will linger with both clubs for two weeks through the season’s final international break. On paper it looks like a match not to lose, even if Bielsa and Chris Wilder invariably play to win.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Bielsa’s squad made a meal of their last midweek fixture, letting Queens Park Rangers take a bite out of them. Reading were never given the chance. There are glimmers of life at the Madejski Stadium and, so the dispatches say, more of a backbone than they showed while Paul Clement was soldiering on as manager but a record with 16 defeats on it was a red rag to Bielsa’s players. Leeds’ unbroken habit of winning games when they score first was duly extended to 18, courtesy of Mateusz Klich’s 14th-minute opener.

The goal was Leeds at their clinical best and Klich doing what he did in the first three months of the season. Tyler Roberts threaded a pass to an overlapping Ayling who got away from Mo Barrow and squared the ball into the box. Patrick Bamford’s step-over found Klich running in, ready to dispatch the ball. Bamford had been passed fit to start after colliding with a post at Bristol City and though Leeds have been profiting from his finishing for the past month, his dummy was worth no less.

Bielsa’s side smelt blood and drew more of it eight minutes later. Reading were hustled out of possession from their own free-kick and when Ayling fed it to Hernandez on the edge of the box, his low strike beat Emi Martinez and cannoned into the net off the inside of the post.

United’s impetus left Reading in two minds; 2-0 down but reluctant to press forward for fear of Hernandez and others tearing into the space behind them. Lewis Baker, a defector from Elland Road in January, was as lost as Leeds remembered him and a 20-year-old debutant in Ryan East sank without trace. Casilla held a dangerous low cross from Meite and a scuffed shot the same player but a quick Reading attack were redundant without the ball.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It stuck to Bielsa’s players and with 44 minutes gone, they were free to exchange passes across the front of Reading’s box again. The last of them ran to Hernandez who took one quick look before finding Martinez’s far corner.

Reading’s coach, Jose Manuel Gomes, could have replaced 10 players at half-time but chose to jettison none, realising that the boat had sailed. Bielsa was made to sweat only once when Ayling – already on a booking for a first-half foul – stuck a leg out and tripped Mo Barrow in the 55th minute but Gavin Ward, the night’s referee, let the challenge go.

Bielsa acknowledged how lenient the decision had been by substituting Ayling a minute later and protecting him from suspension for a derby in which the Argentinian needs everyone. Casilla denied Andy Yiadom with his fingertips in the 66th minute but Leeds had the measure of Reading and Bamford let them off the hook three times in as many minutes as the clock ran down, giving the home crowd a brief chance to amuse themselves at his expense. It was a minor victory in the face of a royal thrashing which set Leeds up perfectly for a derby too colossal to overhype. Bring on Sheffield United.