Kalvin Phillips described a red card shown to Josh Brownhill as “harsh” but insisted Leeds United were on course for victory regardless after a 2-0 win over Bristol City put their worst defeat of the season behind them.
The United midfielder voiced sympathy for Brownhill, whose 55th-minute dismissal for a second yellow card turned a low-key game Leeds’ way on Saturday, but praised a weakened United side for recovering from a 4-1 hammering at West Bromwich Albion two weeks earlier.
Marcelo Biesla’s side were soundly beaten at The Hawthorns before the international break but overcame substantial selection problems to see off Bristol City and remain in touch with Championship leaders Norwich City.
Bielsa was forced to hand debuts to goalkeeper Will Huffer and centre-back Aapo Halme, 20-year-old players taken from Leeds’ development squad, after being hit by injuries earlier in the week but goals from Kemar Roofe and Pablo Hernandez in the final 21 minutes made the most of Brownhill’s dismissal at Elland Road.
The midfielder had already been booked for a trip on Gjanni Alioski when he dived into a tackle on Roofe on halfway.
Phillips said: “As a Leeds United player I thought that we were well on top. They maybe had some threat from set pieces but other than that they didn't really catch us out on anything.
"With the sending off, I’m a modern-day midfielder and I think it was a bit harsh to be honest. We’ve had yellow cards for the same thing but I think it was a turning point.
“Obviously it was very disappointing for us at West Brom, and then having two weeks to think about it and dwell on it. It's not good but we came in last week and worked really hard. The manager told us what we’d done wrong and this shows that we’re improving as a team.
“The way we played our football showed we were eager to get back on the winning side. I think we did really well.”
Phillips has been a highly-influential member of Bielsa’s team this season, rebranded as a holding midfielder and an auxiliary centre-back.
Bielsa used him as part of a back three on Saturday, in between Liam Cooper and Halme who was making his first appearance since joining Leeds from HJK Helsinki last season.
Huffer was chosen in goal ahead of Polish youngster Kamil Miazek after Bielsa lost both Bailey Peacock-Farrell and Jamal Blackman to injury during the international break.
Phillips said he could relate to the pressure on Halme and Huffer having come through Leeds’ academy himself and made his debut as a 19-year-old in 2015.
“I thought they did exceptionally well, both of them,” he said. “I’ve been there and it is nerve-wracking but they handled it very well and it's a credit to Leeds United and the academy.”
United captain Liam Cooper held up a shirt with a message of support for Blackman as United’s players were celebrating their first goal.
The 25-year-old had seen his season-long loan from Chelsea ended eight days earlier by a broken leg suffered in an Under-23s game at Thorp Arch.
With Blackman and Bailey Peacock-Farrell both out, Leeds resisted the option of signing an emergency keeper ahead of the Bristol City clash but managing director Angus Kinnear confirmed in his prorgramme notes on Saturday that the club “will look to bring in goalkeeping cover early in the January window.”