ONE nil up against a Wigan Athletic side down to ten men. Leeds United had been here before.
The Whites looked destined for the Premier League leading 1-0 against the Latics on Good Friday but an unlikely looking 2-1 success for Paul Cook’s side turned April’s encounter and United’s promotion bid on its head. The beginning of the end.
Fresh in the memory, Stuart Dallas admitted Leeds headed for Saturday’s fixture at the Latics with a score to settle.
“We definitely owe them one” said the Northern Ireland international at Thursday’s pre-match press conference.
Job done, with a Patrick Bamford double leaving the Whites top of the pile four months after the Elland Road collapse, fuelling hope that this time Marcelo Bielsa might just take the club ‘home’ at the second time of asking.
Amazon Prime’s six-part documentary Take Us Home: Leeds United was released on the eve of Saturday’s trip to Wigan - chronicling the club’s attempts to finally end a decade and a half absence from the Premier League under the highest paid head coach in the Whites’ history - Bielsa.
Defensive collywobbles cost Bielsa’s men dear in the final throes of last season but the 64-year-old Argentinian regularly admitted last term that the failure to take goalscoring chances was proving highly problematic in the club’s promotion quest.
A new season but the same problems in last weekend’s home clash against Nottingham Forest in which the Whites had to settle for a 1-1 draw despite dominating in possession and attempts on goal.
Bamford was guilty of missing three of the best of the them but retained his place in the lone striker role despite the availability of transfer deadline day recruit Eddie Nketiah - brought in to replace last season’s top scorer Kemar Roofe who moved to Anderlecht two days before the closure of the summer transfer window.
The highly-regarded Arsenal striker has been dubbed as the next Ian Wright in some quarters and Nketiah struck at the first time of asking on his Whites debut in Tuesday night’s 3-0 win at Salford City in the Carabao Cup first round.
Bielsa had made seven changes to his side for the cup clash at Salford but reverted to the same line up that started the previous weekend’s draw against Forest, a game in which United should have been home and hosed long before Lewis Grabban’s second-half equaliser.
All eyes on Leeds and all eyes on Bamford whose first season at the Whites was disrupted by two separate knee ligament injuries that forced him to miss 22 league games. Bamford still netted ten goals and remained insistent that given a clear run of games he would produce the goods.
Early into his second season at Elland Road, the 25-year-old now has three goals in three games with the forward netting the second strike in the season opening 3-1 success at Bristol City and then bagging the brace that settled the score against Wigan.
United’s task was admittedly made somewhat easier when Joe Williams was sent off after just 21 minutes for a second bookable offence for a late challenge on Bamford.
Wigan boss Paul Cook showed his fury by booting his drink away from his technical area though the Latics boss later admitted that he had no qualms with Williams receiving his marching orders.
His complaints came with the fact that Whites midfielder Kalvin Phillips was not booked for what he felt was a similar offence moments earlier.
But Leeds were already well on top with a free-kick from Phillips whistling through the area in the second minute before Bamford fired wide from the edge of the box in the ninth minute.
The lively Barry Douglas then curled a free-kick narrowly wide but Wigan also threatened with Lee Evans forcing Whites ‘keeper Kiko Casilla to tip his free-kick over the bar before a header from six-foot-five Kieffer Moore flashed across goal with Gavin Massey unable to convert at the far post in the 19th minute.
But Williams - who had already been booked for scything down Stuart Dallas - was then given his marching orders by referee Andy Madley for lunging in on Bamford just three minutes later and unlike last April, United then emphatically made their extra man advantage count.
Bamford narrowly failed to connect to two good crosses from Douglas either side of Pablo Hernandez firing wide.
But a Whites opener looked imminent and it duly arrived in the 34th minute when Bamford was left with a tap in after the excellent Adam Forshaw saw his header bounce back off the post following a cross back into the area from Klich after Jack Harrison led a Whites counter.
The goal sparked unsavoury scenes in the West Stand as Whites supporters who had infiltrated that area celebrated but the Leeds onslaught on the pitch continued with Harrison heading wide before Hernandez fired straight at keeper David Marshall when well-placed centrally in the box.
Referee Madley was booed off by the home contingent at half-time and Leeds continued on the front foot after the break as a header from defender Ben White and rising drive from Douglas both evaded the crossbar.
Madley then made another big call when turning down United’s claims for a penalty for what looked like handball by Antonee Robinson in the 64th minute but 60 seconds later Leeds doubled their lead when Wigan failed to clear a Douglas corner which allowed Bamford to practically walk the ball in from close range.
Game over but United pushed ahead for a third with Harrison causing mayhem down the left flank and denied by a fine save from Marshall.
Forshaw also twice went close to finally netting his first goal for Leeds when blasting just wide and then putting another attempt over. Marshall then tipped a Hernandez free-kick wide before Wigan boss Cook was booked.
To their credit, ten men Wigan then offered something of a late rally with Casilla tipping an Evans free-kick behind for a corner before skipper Liam Cooper produced an excellent interception to keep out Jamal Lowe as White was beaten for practically the first time in the match.
The 21-year-old centre-back has barely put a foot wrong in four appearances in league and cup for Leeds since joining on a season-long loan from Brighton, filling the big boots of Pontus Jansson who was among the Whites players left dismayed as ten-men Wigan won 2-1 at Elland Road back in April.
This, though, might just be an even better Leeds side than last season and Jansson and new club Brentford will be the latest test of that theory at Elland Road on Wednesday night.
Wigan Athletic: Marshall, Byrne, Robinson, Morsy, Fox, Evans, Massey (Enobakhare 65), Jacobs (Lowe 65), Moore (Naismith 83), Williams, Dunkley. Subs not used: Jones, Macleod, Kipre, Lang.
Leeds United: Casilla, Douglas, White, Cooper, Dallas, Phillips, Forshaw (Shackleton 90), Klich (Costa 76), Harrison, Hernandez, Bamford. Subs not used: Meslier, Alioski, Nketiah, Berardi, Bogusz.