Reading 0 Leeds United 3 - talking points: Pablo Hernandez in the form of his life, chances hitting the net, Luke Ayling back in the groove and Patrick Bamford takes a ribbing

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Leeds United are starting to smell promotion after a 3-0 win over Reading took the club’s fixture list into single figures. The game at the Madejski Stadium was done by half-time as Marcelo Bielsa’s players comprehensively mastered the mounting tension in an incredibly tight league. These were the main talking points on another big Championship night:

Hernandez in the form of his life

Pablo Hernandez scored 14 goals in one season in Qatar but in European football, and at a serious level of competition, he has never hit double figures before.

His dead-eye finish before the break at the Madejski Stadium was his 10th so far but that tells only part of the story about his influence and his ability to do, as Bielsa’s put it, things that are “not evident or easy to observe”. There is no player in the Championship with more assists and no player in the division who produces more key passes per game.

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Pablo Hernandez applauds Leeds United's travelling support after the club's 3-0 win at Reading.Pablo Hernandez applauds Leeds United's travelling support after the club's 3-0 win at Reading.
Pablo Hernandez applauds Leeds United's travelling support after the club's 3-0 win at Reading.

Hernandez will be 34 in a month’s time and it is hard to know how long his body will take the strain of high-intensity sport but this is shaping up to be the finest season of the career. Good enough for the Premier League, five years after he last played in it? absolutely.

Peaking at the right time

Had Patrick Bamford’s radar been properly tuned, Leeds would have won by five or six goals at Reading but Bielsa is never going to split hairs when his team come away with a 3-0 victory.

Too often this season Bielsa has stood and watched while Leeds maintained a narrow advantage (although with 18 wins from 18 games in which United have scored first, no club does that better) but United have scored eight times in three matches and are starting to making their scorelines reflect their dominance.

“What has improved in the team is the efficiency,” Bielsa said after Tuesday’s win. “We have the same willingness to attack and we are faithful to our style but in the last few games we needed less chances to score goals.” Leeds must feel to him like a team who are peaking at the perfect time.

Bamford takes a ribbing

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Be fair to Reading’s crowd: what else was there to get their teeth into? The club played Hotel California at half-time - “you can check out any time you like but you can never leave” - and a joke which was surely aimed at the shambles of Brexit also applied to their own, suffering supporters.

Bamford’s step-over for Klich’s opening goal was intelligent but he could have had a hat-trick in the space of three minutes in the second half, dragging two shots wide and failing to connect with another after Gjanni Alioski burst down the left.

The crowd latched onto that had their fun with chants of “give it to Bamford”, which is how it goes for a £7m centre-forward. If nothing else, 3-0 up on a Tuesday night was as good a time as any for his finishing to desert him.

A big career ahead of Shackleton

One of the few disappointments of this season has been the fact that Jamie Shackleton’s appearances have been limited. It’s no criticism of Bielsa when Leeds are top of the Championship, and Shackleton will understand why, but his cameo on Tuesday showcased his talent again.

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The teenager has so much to his game: lovely close control, an incisive pass - as shown by the through-ball which laid on Patrick Bamford’s best opportunity - and an energy level which opposition players will hate. Shackleton is like a wasp and anyone who watches him would see top-flight potential. In fairness to the academy staff at Thorp Arch, they were saying this years ago.

Ayling justifies Bielsa’s faith in him

When Luke Ayling’s form dipped after Christmas, and there is no doubt at all that it did, Bielsa did not even entertain the idea of dropping him. “I have a very special respect for him, for what he gives to the team,” Bielsa said.

In the past two games, Ayling has given Leeds three assists with the forward bursts which have made him such an asset in his better spells at Elland Road. Hernandez’s first goal on Tuesday still required a fine finish from 20 yards but Ayling’s service to Bamford at Bristol City and Mateusz Klich against Reading served up chances which neither could miss. Given the way Bielsa likes to play, it is probably no coincidence that a surge in the influence of his right-back has improved the club’s goalscoring.