Paul Heckingbottom praised Leeds United for holding their nerve and taking the game to Bolton Wanderers after a tense Good Friday clash at Elland Road produced his second win as head coach.
Leeds struck early in both halves to take advantage of the club with the worst away record in the Championship and seal a 2-1 victory in front of a season-high crowd of over 35,000.
United’s campaign has wilted since the turn of the year and Heckingbottom, who too charge of Leeds on February 6, had seen only one win in eight previous matches but Caleb Ekuban’s fourth-minute volley and a 50th-minute tap-in from Pablo Hernandez inflicted Bolton’s 12th away defeat of the term.
Heckingbottom’s side were forced to dig in after Adam Le Fondre pulled a goal back within four minutes of Hernandez’s finish and the United boss admitted his players had “made the game difficult for ourselves” by failing to widen the scoreline in the closing stages.
The result, however, provided some welcome relief after a spell of results which subjected Leeds and their squad to intense criticism, edging the club up to 12th in the table.
Heckingbottom said: “The best bit about this job is the games and the best thing about those is winning. It was deserved.
“We spoke about Bolton and how a big part of their resurgence is in how difficult they are to play against. Playing top of the league or bottom of the league, home or away, they’re a competitive side and they’re organised so we wanted to be on the front foot, aggressive and set the tempo. It’s something we’ve been stressing all week.
“It was us who made the game difficult for ourselves by not capitalising when we were on top and conceding when we were at a comfortable stage of the game. The chances we missed, there were a lot that we should have put away but we’ve won. I’ve been critical of the team when we’ve conceded late goals or sloppy goals so I’ve got to be complementary in how we defended.”
Ekuban’s strike was his first league goal for Leeds, following on from a performance against Sheffield Wednesday before the international break in which he missed two clear chances to open his Championship account.
Heckingbottom switched to a two-man attack against Bolton, pairing Ekuban with Pierre-Michel Lasogga. Ekuban failed to convert two one-on-ones in the dying minutes, denied by goalkeeper Ben Alnwick, but Heckingbottom told the Ghanaian to focus on his early finish.
“Everyone appreciate his value to the team and how he works, the selfless nature of his game,” Heckingbottom said. “He’s a frontman and he wants to score so I’m hoping he goes away delighted that he got the goal.
“If I’m critical I’d have liked an easier win and sent the crowd home with a lot more goals. We could have had them.”
Asked if his switch in formation had paid off, Heckingbottom said: “For and against. It allowed us to be more aggressive in how we played the ball forward but I felt it gave Bolton a bit too much time on the ball. Our front players didn’t get that part right out of possession.
“There were pluses and minuses from it but we created a lot of chances and we were a threat.”
Bolton manager Phil Parkinson, whose side are still at risk of relegation, said the early concession to Ekuban had denied them the chance to exploit any nerves in Heckingbottom’s team.
“We started slowly,” Parkinson said. “We knew that coming here, in front of a big crowd against a team who could potentially have been nervous on their own patch, we needed to start well.”