Pablo Hernandez's mission, positive Kalvin Phillips update and Kiko Casilla's admirable response - Leeds United Talking Points

AFTER seeing Leeds United move five points clear in the Championship's automatic promotion spots, the YEP's Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from Saturday's 1-0 victory against Reading at Elland Road.

Monday, 24th February 2020, 6:50 am

Perseverance from Pablo Hernandez

United's Spanish magician Pablo Hernandez has not been at his absolute best of late but Saturday's display against the Royals was much more like it and the 34-year-old was in absolutely no mood to be denied scoring what proved the only goal of the game three minutes before the hour.

Hernandez might have seen his first effort blocked but quickly seized upon the loose ball from the rebound and showed quite brilliant footwork to rework the space for a second attempt which was rifled into the top corner.

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BIG INFLUENCE: Leeds United's Stuart Dallas, left, had 115 touches of the ball in Saturday's 1-0 win at home to Reading for 9.4 per cent of the total play - the most on the pitch. Picture by Simon Hulme.

With 99 touches of the ball, Hernandez had 8.8 per cent of the game's possession with only Stuart Dallas bettering that with 115 touches for 9.4 per cent.

Hernandez's passing success rate was not the highest at 78 per cent but the Spaniard fired in six attempts at goal and also attempted two dribbles.

In short, the no 10 was determined to make something happen and deservedly got his reward.

Good news on Kalvin Phillips ahead of Boro

The importance of United's holding midfield star Kalvin Phillips was clearly highlighted during his recent three-match suspension and there were naturally sighs and groans when the 24-year-old became injured following a challenge midway through the first half.

United's Yorkshire Pirlo tried to run the knock off but eventually went to ground needing treatment and despite again attempting to play on it was clear that Phillips' day was done.

The midfielder was seen pointing towards his lower left leg as Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa was forced into a major reshuffle with Gjanni Alioski brought on and moving to left back with Dallas swapping to right back as Luke Ayling moved to centre-back with Ben White into the holding midfield role.

Leeds took time to adjust but eventually settled into the new system nicely and better still Phillips then posted a positive update regards his injury on Saturday night.

Replying to a post from Arsenal legend Ian Wright on Instagram, Phillips said the injury was "just a dead calf" which is clearly brilliant news for United ahead of Wednesday's clash at Middlesbrough for all that White is gradually getting better and better as a back up holding midfielder.

Crucial Kiko Casilla

Marcelo Bielsa's Whites were a little short of their absolute brilliant best against Reading but still put on a pretty impressive display and once again should have been out of sight.

Sixty six per cent of possession and 18 shots on goal of which five were on target yielded just the single goal which ultimately proved sufficient yet Kiko Casilla ensured that three points were not suddenly zapped down to one in the third minute of added time.

Casilla kept his place in goal with United still awaiting the FA's verdict over his hearing into alleged racism and the Spaniard responded by keeping his second clean sheet in a row and keeping out Liam Moore's low effort with a smart save deep into added time.

Reading might have had a penalty for Liam Cooper's challenge on Moore but it was fitting really that Casilla should have the final say and especially considering the FA's investigation, the 33-year-old has produced an impressive response to three big errors in the games against Wigan Athletic, Nottingham Forest and Brentford.

Chances of kicking more than five points clear

United's advantage in the automatic promotion spots had been whittled down to goal difference after the loss at Forest but the Whites have quickly moved five points clear of Fulham and six ahead of Brentford. Nottingham Forest and Preston North End with another three points back to Bristol City.

Preston are the form side of that quartet but United are now 1-6 to finish in the top two and looking good though their promotion charge will be far more straightforward and better for everyone's stress levels if they can start putting themselves out of sight both in games and in the automatic promotion race as a whole.

Leeds are more than capable of taking six points from this week's away clashes at fifth-bottom Middlesbrough and 17th-placed Hull City with the two sides having gone 19 games between them without a win.

Leaders West Brom - who are four points clear - also host Preston on Tuesday so something will have to give there and likewise when the Lilywhites visit Fulham next weekend.

But put simply, keep on winning and the Whites are going up.