Madness in the air and in the Championship as Leeds United show there's still a gulf between them and Bristol City - Graham Smyth's Verdict

It says it all about Leeds United this season that the gulf that existed between them and Bristol City on the first day of the season was just as evident in Saturday's win and yet they're still only six points clear of the Robins.

Sunday, 16th February 2020, 5:56 am

It says it all that they battered Lee Johnson's side and yet only ran out 1-0 winners.

And it says so much about the Championship that despite their rockiest spell of the season, despite the fact that this was only Leeds' third win in 12 outings, Marcelo Bielsa's men are still second, with a three point lead over the play-off spots. Rock bottom Barnsley hammering third-placed Fulham 3-0 summed up the madness of this division perfectly.

There was madness at Elland Road too. Whatever gameplan Bristol City concocted before heading north, they invited trouble by sitting off Leeds in the early stages, even after conceding.

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Johnson accused a number of his players of hiding when they had the ball, on the rare occasions they did actually have the ball, but when Leeds are in full flight, there is no where to hide.

The warning signs were there from the off when a pair of early corners, a resource that tends to yield little in the way of joy or danger for Leeds United, brought a blocked Helder Costa shot and a glancing Liam Cooper header that sailed just past the post.

Bristol City were more rabbits in headlights than Robins. They did not heed the warning.

Pablo Hernandez played Helder Costa into an unforgivable amount of space down the right and his low cross was gathered by Daniel Bentley.

Luke Ayling's winner gave Leeds United a deserved win over Bristol City at Elland Road (Pic: Bruce Rollinson)

The visitors had two men up top but did not press the ball, even when Leeds crossed halfway. It was only when the Whites arrived at a packed penalty area that they were met with any real opposition.

It is a tactic the Whites have encountered countless times, Marcelo Bielsa said recently that every opponent plays the same way against them and they're used to it. And the longer games go on, the more nervous it gets inside Elland Road as Leeds dominate without scoring.

So letting the game go no further than the 16th minute before finding the net did everyone the world of good, bar Johnson's Bristol City of course, who suffered disastrous consequences for allowing Leeds to reach the final third. White shirts were queuing up and taking turns to take shots in a frenetic sequence, before Luke Ayling crashed the ball home.

Goals change games, but the theme of this one prevailed. Costa had a shot brilliantly saved by Bentley, Stuart Dallas put the rebound against the crossbar and Patrick Bamford was offside when he tapped home, a flag ruling out what would have been a deserved second.

Bristol continued to be far too passive and Leeds needed no second invitation. Hernandez' ball into Bamford saw the striker pirouette and shoot, his effort not missing by much at Bentley's left-hand post.

Klich had a shot saved, Costa too, before Johnson decided enough was enough and, with Andreas Weimann going down and needing treatment on 33 minutes, essentially called a time-out and gathered his team on the touchline.

What he said, which was presumably a prologue for the 'strong message' he delivered at half-time, did not inspire immediate reward, but just before the break Bristol City were able to serve a reminder that this game was being played by two teams, Jamie Paterson getting in front of Kalvin Phillips to head tamely and harmlessly at Kiko Casilla's goal.

The game did alter, after the break, and could have changed completely had referee Tim Robinson agreed with Johnson's interpretation of an Ayling block in the area as handball. Robinson and his fellow officials saw nothing wrong, leaving Johnson to rage like Storm Dennis on the sideline.

Bristol played a more active role in the second half, without ever giving Phillips or the defenders behind him much in the way of trouble, as Leeds continued to attack with slick interplay and width, without the necessary killer final ball.

As the half went on, Leeds had their visitors on the hook and instead of delivering the fatal blow, held Bristol City up to admire and toy with.

Chances came and went, crosses came and went through the penalty area. Costa and Harrison terrified the visitors but couldn't add the finishing touch to what was otherwise masterful wing work.

Bamford showed all of his skill as a targetman, turning defenders, laying the ball off, playing it left and right, but he too failed to cap his performance with what he really wanted and, in Bielsa's words, deserved.

When Ben White steamed forward, beating men and sliding the ball through for the run of Costa, the second goal seemed imminent, yet Bamford couldn't get enough purchase on his shot from the winger's cut-back and although he beat Bentley, a defender cleared the ball behind.

Costa came even closer when he ran onto Liam Cooper's inch-perfect long ball, beat Bentley to it and shot for an unguarded goal only for the keeper to somehow recover sufficiently to get his fingertips to the ball and push it behind.

It wouldn't be Leeds if they hadn't contributed to the rising tension around Elland Road and when Harrison's first touch let him down for the first time, Famara Diedhiou played Nahki Wells in behind White and the striker shaped to break Yorkshire hearts before instead finding the side netting.

It was a let off but it was the last one. Leeds took over and not only managed the final stages cleverly, came even closer to a second goal.

Dallas played in Harrison and he thumped the crossbar. The winger then bamboozled everyone in the ground with some intricate footwork before playing a cross right through the goalmouth.

Jean-Kevin Augustin made little impact in his 15-minute cameo from the bench but should still have grabbed his first Leeds goal, stabbing a close-range effort just past the post after the imperious Phillips had stormed forward with too much power and poise for Bristol to stop him.

There was, on this occasion, no late drama and Leeds got exactly what they deserved in the form of three points, a clean sheet and the chance to ask what all the recent fuss was about.

When they were beating all before them earlier this season, Bielsa said he and his men did not buy into the glowing tributes, just as they did not buy into the panic that ensued when results declined.

They should be miles clear at the top, just as they should have been out of sight by full-time on Saturday.

The Championship will be the Championship and there will be eyebrow raising results until the end.

But if Leeds can be Leeds, like they were against Bristol City, even with their lack of ruthlessness, there will be glasses raised all over this city come May.