Christmas for Thomas Christiansen once meant a winter break and Leeds United’s head coach joked last week that the job of trailing round the shops would fall to his wife this year.
His own wish-list is short and sweet, starting and ending with a place in the Championship play-offs.
Top six by Christmas Eve, Christiansen predicted on Friday, and his players took up the challenge at Loftus Road, riding all sorts of unhelpful happenings to turn the screw on Queens Park Rangers. There were clouds around Elland Road a few weeks ago but Leeds were far enough past them to stop lightening striking twice in west London, where improbable fightbacks are becoming the fashion.
QPR pinched a 2-2 draw with Brentford at Loftus Road two weeks ago by scoring twice in injury-time and Leeds were exposed to the same torture when Felix Wiedwald allowed a hoof from Pawel Wszolek to bounce over his head and his goalline with 91 minutes played. An equaliser was on the cards until Kemar Roofe tore upfield and rounded off a fine hat-trick with five minutes of added time played. “It’s good entertainment,” Roofe quipped as he stood with the matchball, reflecting on a game which QPR deserved nothing from.
Leeds have been nothing if not entertaining this season, for better or worse, and their 3-1 win at Loftus Road, on a ground where they were unceremoniously battered last season, marked them out again as a cut above a large section of the Championship. There was nothing in the first half but a gulf in class in the second as Roofe took an unplanned chance to play up front and scored three times with a tidy exhibition of finishing. It was not evidence of United’s ability to qualify for the play-offs but proof all the same that they are good enough to be on the radar. Saturday’s result leaves them four points back.
Even the depth of Christiansen’s squad, the factor which many suspect will hold Leeds back, basked in a better light as fate played into Pawel Cibicki’s hands and ultimately those of Christiansen. Thrown on for his league debut after an 38th-minute injury to Caleb Ekuban, Cibicki’s appearance changed Leeds’ shape and negated the dross of the opening half. Roofe moved from the left wing to replace Ekuban up front and Cibicki slotted in on the right. By the 68th minute, QPR were 2-0 down and praying for a helping hand.
A fortnight previously Cibicki cut an isolated and disgruntled figure, daring to like a Twitter post from Mateusz Klich which expressed annoyance at Klich’s own lack of opportunities under Christiansen. Klich travelled to QPR and failed to make the bench but Cibicki, a last-gasp signing from Malmo in August, got a chance and jumped on it. How Christiansen accommodates the Swede and Roofe with Pablo Hernandez, Stuart Dallas and Pierre-Michel Lasogga about to return from injury is for him to decide but Cibicki’s performance changed the complexion of what looked at face value like a worryingly threadbare bench.
Cibicki’s prior appearances both came in League Cup ties against Burnley and Leicester City, nights when he looked out of his depth. Saturday could not have been more different, culminating in a nicely weighted cross for Roofe’s second goal. “If he is here it’s because he has the quality to be here,” Christiansen said. “Perhaps in previous games he hasn’t shown what we expected but today he delivered what we expected and made a very nice assist.”
Roofe’s performance was no less compelling. The former Oxford United player has never quite made himself stick at Leeds, up front, out wide or at number 10, but the inspiration came from him after Ekuban, the victim of a broken foot earlier this season, left the field with what might be a recurrence of that injury.
Roofe threatened a goal seconds before half-time but was denied by Jake Bidwell’s desperate sliding tackle after some crafty shirt-pulling before it.
There was no constraining Roofe, however, as Leeds rolled up their sleeves and piled forward after the hour.
“It was about how we went out and thought it was possible to win.We changed what we did in the first half, which was not good, and in the second half we were much better. We scored the important first goal.Leeds United coach, Thomas Christiansen.
“It was about believing in the second half, Christiansen said. “It was about how we went out and thought it was possible to win.We changed what we did in the first half, which was not good, and in the second half we were much better. We scored the important first goal.”
QPR were closest to it before half-time without causing serious unrest. Matt Smith, United’s former striker, was asked to fish for direct balls but found Pontus Jansson glued to the back of him. Conor Washington dragged a shot wide after chesting the ball down inside the box and Luke Freeman wasted Wszolek’s cut-back by sliding it over the crossbar. Little by little Rangers began to look like a team who have not won in six.
When the time came, Leeds were ruthless. Roofe drew first blood on 63 minutes by slipping cleverly between two markers and heading Gjanni Alioski’s cross inside the far post. He was on hand again to tap-in Cibicki’s cross five minutes later after Alex Smithies beat out Samuel Saiz shot but watched Leeds recover possession and wade down the right.
QPR needed help and it came on 91 minutes when Wiedwald misjudged Wszolek’s attempt to direct a clearance from a corner back into the box and failed to claw it off his line. QPR were reminded quickly of their recovery against Brentford and within seconds, Wiedwald was diving to block a shot from Idrissa Sylla who arrived in the box with only the keeper to beat. Leeds at that stage would have kicked themselves senseless.
Christiansen was able to smile afterwards, despite the growing realisation that the string of errors from his goalkeepers – Wiedwald and Andy Lonergan – this season beg the question of whether either is suited to a team with designs on promotion. What did Christiansen says to Wiedwald? “Congratulations,” he replied. “What should I say? Thanks for saving two or three opportunities. Okay he made a mistake but it didn’t cost us the three points.”
Roofe made sure of that, breaking up field to take a pass from Saiz and shoot under Smithies as QPR threw everything forward in the 95th minute. A quiet and unassuming character, the goal was Roofe’s ninth of the season and the hat-trick his second.
United’s squad signed the match ball for him afterwards and Roofe admitted that memories of last season’s opening-day thrashing at Loftus Road had played a part. “They embarrassed us and it hurt us,” he said. “We put a little bit extra into this one.”