Luke Ayling’s early goal settled a nervy contest between Leeds United and Bristol City at Elland Road, with Marcelo Bielsa’s side grappling back an advantage in the automatic promotion race.
Leeds have been bang out of form in the last two months, but Ayling’s 16th minute goal, on an important afternoon in the Championship, sank Lee Johnson’s side and moved the Whites back three points clear of third-placed Fulham.
Conditions in West Yorkshire were testing from the off, but so was Leeds’ pressure on the Bristol City defence; Bielsa’s side playing with the confidence they did at Griffin Park in the week.
Jack Harrison and Helder Costa forced a flurry of corners in the early minutes, with Liam Cooper glancing a header beyond Daniel Bentley’s far post.
All the football was being played by Leeds, with Pablo Hernandez pulling the strings. He set Costa free down the right, but, not for the only time in the first-half, the Portuguese was wasteful.
Johnson’s side were struggling to contain Leeds’ flowing football in the opening exchanges, with Nathan Baker and Ashley Williams doing overtime in the heart of defence. They could only withstand for so long, though, with Leeds making a breakthrough from an unlikely source on 16 minutes.
For all the slick football Leeds had played, it was a scramble in the area that eventually resulted in Ayling firing beyond Bentley.
Leeds’ relentless pressure didn’t stop there, and Patrick Bamford had a goal rightly disallowed for offside following another period of chaos in the Bristol City penalty area.
Bamford’s turn and shot on 22 minutes was dragged wide and didn’t test Bentley, who was later forced to save low from Costa’s stinging long-range effort.
At the opposite end of the field, Johnson’s side had failed to put Kiko Casilla under any sort of pressure, but a lack of communication between the Spaniard and Cooper almost allowed Nahki Wells in as half-time approached. Bielsa’s defence dealt with the situation, though.
Jamie Paterson – now playing through the middle following Andi Weimann’s injury – headed straight at Casilla, but Leeds were still coming strong, with Baker’s last-ditch clearance preventing Bamford the simplest of finishes.
Bristol City would start better after half-time and had a decent penalty appeal turned down when Ayling leaned into a block. Tim Robinson wasn’t convinced it struck the defender’s arm, despite big claims from Johnson and his coaching staff.
Markus Henriksen would then fire harmlessly over from range, but this was better stuff from the visitors.
Famara Diedhiou was called as Johnson’s second change, but his first duty was to help the Robins defend some sustained Leeds pressure as Bielsa’s side probed for a second goal.
And, shortly after the hour they had a golden chance to find that goal; Ben White stepped out of defence and fed Costa into the penalty area, with the winger picking out Bamford, who produced a sprawling save from Bentley.
Not long after Bentley’s heroics were keeping the Robins in the game again, as he recovered to prevent Costa rolling the ball into an empty net after he latched onto Cooper’s long ball and rounded the goalkeeper.
Stuart Dallas launched a long-range effort into the Kop, before Johnson’s side carved their best opening of the game, as Wells latched onto Diedhiou’s threaded pass, only to fire off-target as Elland Road winced.
Bielsa’s side had chance to settle developing nerves as Dallas found Harrison in the area, but the loanee’s fierce effort rebounded off the woodwork.
A lack of conviction from good crossing positions followed, with Leeds starting to invite pressure and give the Robins hope of something from a game they deserved little from.
Jean-Kevin Augustin attempted to secure the points with a clever reversed effort, but the second goal evaded Leeds.
Releasing tension with another goal didn’t happen, but Leeds saw out stoppage time with little fuss and full-time brought a massive sigh of relief.
Results elsewhere, including a 3-0 loss for Fulham against Barnsley, brought huge cheers from an Elland Road crowd, who are gearing up for the biggest of pushes for Premier League football.
Full-time: Leeds United 1-0 Bristol City.