“Lucky” was the word used by Thomas Christiansen after Leeds United’s win over Hull City but every club needs a slice of it and his subtle mention of the gap to second place in the Championship revealed how he was truly feeling.
Leeds spent two months below the division’s top six but their return to the play-off positions on Saturday, in time for Christmas Day, got the club’s head coach thinking about whether Cardiff City, eight points to the good, should now be on his radar.
Christiansen’s players showed little of the poise needed for automatic promotion against Hull but they are, undeniably, a team on a streak: three wins in a row, four in five games and well aware of the momentum they have.
“This is what we want,” said Christiansen, who two short months ago was fielding questions about the security of his job. “We’re eight points from Cardiff now but we go one step at a time.”
Saturday’s victory at Elland Road encouraged a little caution, or at least reined in any sense of Leeds taking the division apart. Pablo Hernandez’s 30th-minute chip, a beautiful finish laid on by a horrible clearance from Hull goalkeeper Allan McGregor, picked off another side who lie a long way below Leeds in the table but the balance of the first half was evident to everyone.
“When it looked worst, we got our goal,” Christiansen said. “They put us under high pressure and I have to be honest, we were lucky to take the three points. Hull deserved more than they got.”
Felix Wiedwald must have sympathised with McGregor’s blunder, so concentrated has been the scrutiny on Leeds’ number one recently, but he had the pleasure of an afternoon where criticism was beneath him.
The German denied Hull a second-minute goal with a fingertip stop from Kamil Grosicki and was well positioned to prevent Nouha Dicko’s effort finding the far corner soon after.
Christiansen’s defence was split open too easily and there was no hint of a goal at the other end until McGregor inexplicably hooked the ball to Hernandez 30 yards from goal. The Spaniard had the presence of mind to size up the keeper and loft the ball back over his head.
Hernandez was back in at number 10, in place of Samuel Saiz who suffered a calf strain in training last week. Saiz has made Leeds tick all season, in their better periods and their worst, and rhythm and control was absent without him. In all, Saturday’s game was not unlike United’s win over Norwich a week earlier: the same scoreline, the same type of near-misses, another clean sheet for Wiedwald and three more points.
Saiz has made Leeds tick all season, in their better periods and their worst, and rhythm and control was absent without him.Phil Hay
Christiansen was not persuaded that Saiz’s absence had been telling. “He’s a big player, he’s shown that, but more than the creativity we just needed more of the ball,” he said.
Hull struck a post through Jon Toral before the break but Leeds could have scored a second when Gjanni Alioski volleyed Pawel Cibicki’s downward header against McGregor’s legs. After half-time, there was ample pressure from Hull but nothing like the same threat. “I don’t believe we had serious problems,” Christiansen said, “but the first half was not good.”
Wiedwald had claimed a ninth clean sheet. On this occasion is could not be said that the defence in front of him had given him the day off.
Leeds United: Wiedwald, Ayling, Cooper, Jansson, Berardi, Vieira, Phillips (O’Kane 46), Cibicki, Hernandez (Pennington 90), Alioski, Roofe (Lasogga 77). Subs (not used): Lonergan, Shaughnessy, Anita, Grot.
Hull City: McGregor, Tomori, Aina, Dawson, Mazuch (Stewart 31), Hector, Larsson, Toral (Bowen 73), Irvine, Grosicki, Dicko (Henriksen 81). Subs (not used): Marshall, Clark, Clackstone, Diomande.
Referee: S Martin (Staffordshire).