Pablo Hernandez struck late for Leeds United yesterday at the Liberty Stadium, with Marcelo Bielsa’s side edging past Swansea City and moving within touching distance of the Premier League.
Leeds retained their place at the top of the Championship table after West Brom’s draw with Blackburn Rovers and, despite Brentford’s winning streak continuing against Derby County, there is still a six-point buffer to third with three to play.
It was tense in Swansea and it wasn’t until the 89th minute that Leeds finally found a way past Freddie Woodman. It had to be Hernandez – the former Swan himself and man who has inspired Leeds on so many darker days – finding the winner on such an important day.
Four points are now needed from three fixtures, with Leeds’ focus not able to drift any further than Thursday’s meeting with Barnsley. If results go their way earlier in the week that could well be the one.
However, before attention drifts onto the Tykes, we assess what we saw from Leeds at the Liberty Stadium…
Not the prettiest, but so important
Last Thursday we saw Leeds put Stoke City to the sword, with Bielsa’s side 5-0 winners against the Championship strugglers.
This was never going to be a repeat and Swansea are a much tougher opponent; they are chasing the play-offs and have a lot of talented individuals that Steve Cooper is getting a tune out of.
For 89 minutes yesterday, it was a scrappy and tense affair, with many Leeds fans beginning to accept the fact it might just be a point from the fixture. Not a bad result, but not enough to put Leeds on the brink.
Patrick Bamford had forced Woodman into decent saves, Jack Harrison blazed into an empty stand and even Hernandez, on the back of his half-time introduction, was struggling to get things going in the same way he had against Stoke.
However, all that scrappy and tired play was forgotten on 89 minutes. Luke Ayling burst down the right, picked up a return ball off Helder Costa and squared for Hernandez despite an awkward deflection.
The 35-year-old controlled and finished off Woodman’s post. Scrappy? Yes, but worth its weight in gold.
Redemption for Hernandez
One of the images from last season that turns your stomach are those of Pablo Hernandez in tears against Brentford as Leeds’ automatic promotion push began to fade. Then, in the play-offs, he wept as Derby celebrated wildly after reaching Wembley.
For Hernandez, at 35, he might have thought that was his last chance of promotion with Leeds and a Premier League swansong. Nobody knew what this season would hold.
Ultimately, he’s been part of a squad that’s dusted themselves down and gone again. His influence on the side hasn’t been as great as we saw in 2018/19, but he’s finding his best at the most important time of the season.
It means that much. pic.twitter.com/aAssvr4kQg
— AGB (@BurnsAlfie) July 12, 2020
Overall it is eight goals and eight assists this season, but since the restart he’s scored twice and created two more, with his mission to guide Leeds back to the Premier League.
This goal in Swansea was so timely and, although it wasn’t the type of pure strike Hernandez can produce, his celebration told you just how important it was.
Forget the Brentford tears and the world falling apart around him against Derby; this is his redemption.
It’s not over yet, just ask Bielsa
A win over Swansea to move back six points clear of third, with only nine points to play for, is huge and across a lot of the Championship it’s widely expected Leeds will get it done from here.
However, their own head-coach was quizzed post-match on how he’s enjoying the run-in, with Bielsa retaining his focus and insisting he will not relax until the job is done. Even then, you feel he means in terms of the title.
It’s the perfect attitude to have and despite the euphoria of a late, late winner against Swansea, it’s exactly the message the Leeds fans wanted to hear from Bielsa.
This is a club that’s been battered and bruised for 16 years. The fans carry those wounds and if anyone can throw away this position, it is this club.
It’s close and it might even be wrapped up on Thursday, but until there’s a definite outcome, Bielsa will not rest.