Leeds United claimed an astonishing victory over Blackburn Rovers on Boxing Day at Elland Road as the Whites scored twice in injury-time to secure a 3-2 win.
But what were the key talking points? Our Phil Hay takes a look back at a memorable victory in LS11...
How late it was, how late
Injury-time goals are Norwich City’s speciality and they were at it again on Boxing Day, scoring in the 93rd and 98th minutes to nick a 3-3 draw with Nottingham Forest. The fightback came so late that the stadium announcer at Elland Road confirmed it as a 3-1 defeat.
Leeds United have found the same knack in the past week but it was telling to hear Marcelo Bielsa admit on Wednesday that 95th-minute winners are not in his playbook. Against Blackburn Rovers he expected Leeds to take advantage of their pressure in the first half and kill the game before it got out of hand. “It would have been the conclusion we wanted if it had happened like that,” he said.
As a rule, Leeds are not depending on last-ditch goals, or not in the way that Dennis Wise’s United - the last team to record seven league victories consecutively - did in 2007. Prior to Sunday’s win at Aston Villa, Pablo Hernandez was the only player in Bielsa’s side who had scored in injury-time, and that a consolation in a 4-1 thrashing by West Bromwich Albion. This team are an extension of Bielsa himself: a coach who prefers to be in control.
Playing to win and reaping the rewards
Most coaches talk about playing “winning football” but Bielsa is a rarity in refusing to adapt his outlook for different fixtures. His formation can change - though generally on the basis of how many strikers the opposition are using - but the tactics are rigid: attack, attack, attack.
Bielsa said on Wednesday that a victory over Blackburn was necessary because of Rovers’ position halfway down the Championship. Away at Villa on Sunday, against a side who are on the cusp of the play-offs, he would have been happy with a point. But Leeds did not play for a point and their superior tally of 16 shots to Villa’s 10 told in the end. Against Blackburn they produced no fewer than 24 attempts and by a margin of 0.9, they are the side with the most shots on goal per game in the Championship. It is risk for reward - the way Bielsa has always been.
The resurgence of Alioski - on the right wing
There are matches in which Gjanni Alioski seems to riding on the coattails of United’s more effective players but you only have to look at the number of appearances made by him under different head coaches to realise how much they all appreciate his strengths.
Alioski has generally run the left wing for Bielsa, with success in the first month of the season but less joy since then, but it is not necessary a coincidence that his switch to the right away at Villa has yielded two significantly improved displays. He was arguably the pick of the players at Villa Park and in Wednesday’s win over Blackburn, he hit the crossbar, came up with four shots on goal and looked like a neater fit before Jack Clarke’s introduction moved him back to his old position. Over the past 18 months it has felt as if Alioski has more to offer on the right-hand side and it might be in Bielsa’s interests to keep him there.
A record on the line
Seven league wins in a row is something special by Leeds’ standards. The club did the same in 2007, albeit in League One, and again in 1999 while David O’Leary was managing them in the Premier League. Don Revie’s boys also produced seven straight victories during their title-winning campaign in 1973-74. But eight in a row? That takes the club back to 1931 and Dick Ray’s second stint as manager, in the old second division. Leeds put nine together back-to-back, a run finally ended by a 3-3 draw with Chesterfield on November 28. Bielsa is two victories away from equally a club record, and three away from breaking it. You wouldn’t put it past him.
Who will shut Leeds United out?
Question: when did Leeds last fail to score in a league game (or any game for that matter)? The answer is August 31, during their goalless draw with Middlesbrough at Elland Road. It is the only league fixture under Bielsa in which United have failed to score full stop. Eighteen matches have gone by since a Championship side found a way to shut Bielsa’s attack out. What chance for Hull City on Saturday?
Peacock-Farrell in harm’s way
Were it not for Roofe’s dramatic interventions against Blackburn, the post-match narrative would have focused on the mistake by Peacock-Farrell which allowed Charlie Mulgrew’s outlandish free-kick to sneak into his net. The goalkeeper is in a strange position at Elland Road: under scrutiny and not quite doing enough to convince yet part of a team who have 51 points from 24 games and are three clear at the top of the table. There is a risk of Bielsa trying to fix something which isn’t fundamentally broken but it is no secret that Leeds are very keen on Newcastle United’s Karl Darlow and they will sign him if a deal with Newcastle can be done. This, for Peacock-Farrell, is a bad time to be showing chinks in his armour.
Lewis Baker’s aborted substitutions
Baker was stripped and ready to go when Jack Clarke scored at Aston Villa. He was stripped and ready to go moments before Blackburn claimed their second goal. On both occasions he was told to about-turn and go back to the bench, where he watched the drama play out. It really isn’t happening for him.