Leeds United 2 Ipswich Town 0: The Final Word - Competition for places rife as Whites move top of a tightly-packed pile

SO CLOSE: Leeds United winger Gjanni Alioski watches his rocket of a shot fly goalwards only to hit the inside of the post and somehow bounce away. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
SO CLOSE: Leeds United winger Gjanni Alioski watches his rocket of a shot fly goalwards only to hit the inside of the post and somehow bounce away. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
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AFTER seeing Leeds United move back to the top of the Championship, the YEP's Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points and has The Final Word following Wednesday night's 2-0 win at home to Ipswich Town.

Back on track and top of the pile

Wednesday night's fixture was all about restoring much-needed momentum to United's promotion charge after just one win in five and the accumulation of just ten points from a last possible 24.

But the nature of Leeds' performances had not been particularly waning - especially when allowing for the injuries - and it was no surprise that bottom-of-the-table Ipswich were brushed aside with the minimum of fuss with the Tractor Boys lucky not to concede a hatful.

Better still, victory even sent Leeds back to the top of a very tightly-packed division with West Brom blowing their chance to assume leadership with a 4-1 loss at home to a Derby County side now up to fifth.

The results were incredibly kind to Leeds during their slump in form but the flip side of the coin is the fact that only two points separate the entire top six with another two points back to Saturday's seventh-placed visitors Nottingham Forest and eighth-placed Bristol City.

Remarkably, there are only six points between first and 13th-placed QPR and United only lead the way on goal difference ahead of both Middlesbrough and Sheffield United who both have 26 points.

But perhaps more importantly, Marcelo Bielsa's men now appear firmly back on track with their usual swagger and with massively important duo Pablo Hernandez and Kemar Roofe back in the groove after injury, United should be able to make themselves difficult to overhaul.

That said, the nature of the tightly-packed division means the outcome of Saturday's clash against Forest could leave United three points clear at the top or clinging to a place in the play-offs.

This, though, looks very much like an automatic promotion side.

Gaetano Berardi's injury and a classy Kalvin Phillips

The one dampener on United's evening concerned the injury to defender Gaetano Berardi who had to be taken off after 28 minutes.

The 30-year-old managed to walk off the pitch fine but Bielsa revealed the Swiss footballer had suffered a muscular injury - "falling in an uncoordinated way and putting tension on the muscle."

Berardi was only two games into his comeback following a knee injury and it goes without saying that the quicker the versatile defender is back the better though Leeds will be massively boosted for Saturday by the return of centre-back Pontus Jansson from suspension.

Following Berardi's withdrawal for Stuart Dallas, Luke Ayling also slotted into a back three system alongside Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips fairly seamlessly but for a slip in the latter stages which forced Bailey Peacock-Farrell into a good save from Jon Nolan.

But Forest will clearly present a more potent threat than Ipswich who look to be staring at a very difficult season based on what was witnessed at Elland Road with the Tractor Boys 8-15 to go down.

Sticking with the theme of the defence, Phillips put in probably his best display yet in his newly adopted role of centre-back with the 22-year-old often the most central and deepest of United's back three despite being more recognised as a midfielder.

Using Phillips as a centre-back really has been a masterstroke from Bielsa who will now have to decide whether to again opt for three at the back against Forest or revert to a 4-1-4-1.

Alioski, Forshaw and competition for places

Competition to bag a start in United's XI remains rife with Adam Forshaw probably knocking on the door the loudest after producing an impressive performance introduced as a 57th-minute substitute for Samu Saiz for whom it's not quite happening at the moment despite his magic not being in doubt.

With a somewhat tired-looking Saiz withdrawn from his no 10 role, Mateusz Klich and Forshaw formed a new centre midfield axis - with both very advanced at times - and Forshaw would have bagged a fine first goal for Leeds but for a great save from Bartosz Bialkowski to tip away his arrowing shot from the top left corner.

Forshaw must be close to starting but the question is who would give way as a result and with United getting the job done against Ipswich, Bielsa would seem likely to name the same XI against Forest but for Jansson coming in for Berardi - assuming Berardi is out.

Stuart Dallas and Tom Pearce also both had good games coming off the bench, Dallas replacing the injured Berardi after 27 minutes and Pearce on for Jack Harrison two minutes before the hour.

Harrison did okay in parts and had his moments but was obviously outshone out wide by the mesmeric Pablo Hernandez and Gjanni Alioski with special mention deserved for the latter who has taken his share of stick in recent weeks.

Starting at left wing back and then pushed up to left wing after Pearce came on, Alioski put in a superb shift against Ipswich and the Macedonian was extremely unlucky to see his rocket of an effort in the second half crash against the inside top of the post and somehow not bounce in.

Given his superb finish for United's opener, Wednesday's display also justified Bielsa's decision to start Roofe in the lone striker role ahead of Tyler Roberts, a move that looked absolutely the right call though Leeds are blessed to have an option like Roberts on the bench, let alone with Patrick Bamford waiting in the wings plus young teenage striker Ryan Edmondson.

Roofe also revealed on social media afterwards that "baby Roofe no 2" was on its way this week, hence his dummy celebration to mark the fifth goal of the campaign.

That said, the finish of the night belonged to United's captain Liam Cooper - a centre-back - who was netting the 13th goal of his career and sixth for Leeds.

Few players, never mind centre-backs, will strike one as impressive as that.