A single point separates Leeds United from promotion after yesterday’s 1-0 win over Barnsley.
Leeds were pushed to the brink for three points as Barnsley held them to the ropes for a lot of the second-half, but just one more point is all it will take for Marcelo Bielsa to take his place alongside Don Revie and Howard Wilkinson in the club’s history books.
It was an own-goal from Michael Sollbauer that gifted Leeds the lead on 28 minutes, moments after his centre-back partner, Mads Andersen, had spurned the perfect opportunity to put Barnsley ahead.
The second-half was tough from a Leeds perspective, with Barnsley throwing everything at Liam Cooper and his defence looking to break them down. Ultimately, nothing came.
Leeds are on the brink and a scrappy 1-0 win has left Barnsley on the brink at the opposite end of the table.
We assess the talking points from Elland Road last night…
Struber had Bielsa on the ropes
Gerhard Struber has done a good job with Barnsley and their style of football deserves huge credit. On so many occasions this season, a struggling side has come to Elland Road and sat back, inviting pressure, but that wasn’t the Barnsley way.
The Tykes took the game to Leeds from the opening exchanges and could have taken the lead through Jacob Brown or Andersen before Sollbauer turned into his own net.
The second-half response from Barnsley was good; Luke Thomas and Callum Styles were unlucky not to find Illan Meslier’s bottom corner, whilst the French goalkeeper was forced to tip Cauley Woodrow’s half-volley over the crossbar.
Such was Barnsley’s hold on the game, Bielsa was in a frenzy in his technical area, switching from 3-3-1-3 to 4-1-4-1, shuffling his pack and turning to his bench at the start of the second-half.
Unusually, Pascal Struijk was introduced into the midfield to disrupt Barnsley’s flow and, by full-time, Leeds looked exhausted.
Not many do this to Bielsa in the Championship and Barnsley deserve heaps of credit for that.
Not pretty, but who cares?
Leeds have played beautiful football under Bielsa in the last two seasons, but this was their worst performance under him. Yet, it has brought the crucial three points that puts this squad of players on the cusp of glory.
Patrick Bamford, as always, battled hard at the top of the pitch; he forced Sollbauer to turn into his own goal and produced a good save from Jack Walton in the second-half.
Unusually when Leeds play, the rest of the action was in their own half, with Barnsley pressing Luke Ayling into mistakes and shots pouring in on Meslier’s goal.
Cooper led the defence of Meslier’s goal; launching himself into blocks and winning crucial duels; Bielsa tweaked his set-up and he had four centre-backs on the pitch when the final whistle blew. This was a real battle and so unlike Leeds.
On a few of occasions this season, Leeds have been on the opposite end of this scoreline undeservedly: Swansea City back in August, Charlton Athletic in September, Queens Park Rangers in January.
This was their time to have a little bit of luck, their time to feel they got away with one.
Ugly and undeserved, but who really cares?
Revenge at Derby
The images of Derby rubbing salt in the wounds after last year’s epic play-off clash still hurt, but Leeds have the chance for the ultimate revenge when they visit Pride Park on Sunday afternoon.
Of course, it is a different regime with no Frank Lampard and his band of loanees, but the needle remains between the two sets of supporters and Leeds fans would love nothing more to see promotion – and potentially the title – secured with a trip to Derby.
Promotion might be wrapped up before then if West Brom or Brentford fail to secure maximum points in their fixtures, but even then, the title could be up for grabs at Pride Park.
Ideally, Leeds would be wrapping things up in-front of 35,000 fans at Elland Road or with a 3,000 strong following in the away end at Derby. That’s not going to happen, but there’s still a chance for the sweetest of victories in the East Midlands.
When the fixtures for the 2019/20 season were announced, Derby away on April 25th was circled as the one, the day it could all come together and revenge could be carried out after last season.
Those stars have aligned.