Marcelo Bielsa told Bailey Peacock-Farrell to take a valuable injection of confidence after the Leeds United goalkeeper put a hard week behind him with a vital penalty save at Elland Road.
Peacock-Farrell turned away a 90th-minute spot-kick to earn Leeds a 1-0 win over Reading and respond emphatically to Bielsa’s relevation that the 22-year-old was set to be dropped.
Bielsa stated publicly on Thursday that he had been planning to end Peacock-Farrell’s 17-game ever-present Championship record until Jamal Blackman, United’s loanee from Chelsea, suffered a broken leg during the international break.
Peacock-Farrell was then forced to miss Saturday’s 2-0 win over Bristol City with a knee injury, making way for 20-year-old academy player Will Huffer, but he regained his place against Reading and stole the show by tipping wide a last-gasp penalty from Marc McNulty.
Leeds were clinging onto a 60th-minute goal from Stuart Dallas when Barry Douglas brought down Joshua Sims and gave Reading the chance to level the match.
Bielsa, who claimed he had revealed his plan to demote Peacock-Farrell in the hope that the Northern Ireland international’s form would improve from knowing his place was under threat, said: “I’m very happy for him and I’m very happy for the team. We had an intervention that resolved the game and he had a very big influence in the fact we didn’t lose two points.
“The intervention he had improves the self-esteem of a goalkeeper and that’s legitimate because he allowed us to win the game.”
Leeds moved up to second place in the Championship, ahead of Middlesbrough and one point behind Norwich City, but it took until the second half for Bielsa’s side to get the measure of struggling Reading.
Bielsa made bold substitutions at the interval, replacing Gjanni Alioski and Lewis Baker with Samuel Saiz and Jack Clarke, and United dominated in the moment leading up to Dallas’ strike on the hour.
“We had more offensive fluidity, especially at the beginning of the second half,” Bielsa said. “That’s why their (Saiz and Clarke’s) contribution was important. I don’t think Alioski and Baker’s performances were bad. I just wanted to put players with different attributes on the left.
“Our performance had ups and downs but generally speaking we deserved to win. We would have liked to have finished the game better but we made three substitutions and then the opponent dared to play more. One of their centre-backs became a number nine and we were a bit too attacking. Our offensive players had to recover the ball and it is not what they are used to doing.”
Reading manager Paul Clement revealed after that he has substituted both of his preferred penalty takers, Liam Kelly and John Swift before the foul on Sims.
McNulty replaced Kelly on 76 minutes and Clement said: “Liam was the first taker, he is off the pitch. The second is John Swift, he is off the pitch, so the players have to sort it out amongst themselves. I saw Marc look confident and it was a good save from the goalkeeper.
“I’m very proud of the performance. I don’t think it reflects where we are in the league and I’m very disappointed we didn’t back up the performance with a point. At the end I saw Leeds really hanging on.”