Marcelo Bielsa said Leeds United’s players were rewarded for their belief after admitting he had settled for a draw before Kemar Roofe struck with a 95th-minute winner at Aston Villa.
Roofe sent Leeds back to the top of the Championship by stroking in a volley with the last chance of a breathless game at Villa Park, completing a fightback from 2-0 down and sparking wild celebrations amongst Bielsa’s side.
United recovered from two concessions inside the first 17 minutes to score three times in the second half and force a priceless victory which left Villa trailing 15 points behind them.
Bielsa’s side will spend Christmas Day in first place in the Championship with a two-point lead over Norwich City and no side in the division at the head of the table on December 25 has failed to go onto win promotion in 11 years.
An ever-cautious Bielsa warned that “all rules have exceptions” and said Leeds were guilty of over-celebrating Roofe’s dramatic finish.
United’s head coach said: “He scored at the end of the game. Everyone thought it was going to be a draw but the team kept their ambition.
“When you score goals that define the final result emotions prevent any kind of analysis. We were all overwhelmingly happy. Maybe too much.
“It's not common to change a game from losing 2-0 to winning 3-2. It’s not common that the game is defined in the last minute so the happiness is bigger than in other moments. We were satisfied with the draw. We felt euphoria when we won.
“But we were very ambitious. We made a lot of effort. We played a team who are very strong from an offensive point of view and apart from the first 15 minutes of both halves, we played well. I think we deserved to win.”
Leeds looked to be on course for a fourth league defeat after Tammy Abraham’s 13th league goal and Conor Hourihane’s 20-yard finish gave Villa the ascendancy early on.
Youngster Jack Clarke, however, came off United’s bench at half-time and pulled a goal back quickly, and a Pontus Jansson header soon after set up an end-to-end finish in which Roofe landed the final blow.
Bielsa is in prime position to claim promotion in his first term with both Leeds and in English football but he laughed off the statistic showing that Watford in 2008 were the last team to top the table on Christmas Day and miss out on a place in the Premier League.
“I hope we won't be the exception,” he said. “You know that all rules have exceptions. That's why we take precautions.”
Villa manager Dean Smith described Leeds as the “best team we’ve played” but accused Bielsa’s players of an over-the-top reaction to their winning goal.
“From the celebrations I thought they'd won the title,” Smith said. “We're halfway through the season. But I congratulated Marcelo Bielsa. He's a humble guy.
“They were probably better than us but I thought a draw would have been a fair result.”