Pablo Hernandez’s second-half goal was enough to secure Leeds United a 1-0 win over Reading this afternoon in the Championship, moving Marcelo Bielsa’s side five points clear of the play-off places.
Leeds had watched both Fulham and Brentford drop points in their weekend fixtures, but were made to work hard for their three points this afternoon against Mark Bowen’s side.
Hernandez’s 57th minute strike settled the game despite a nervy end, with Leeds starting to put daylight between themselves, Fulham, Brentford and Nottingham Forest, who have all drawn this weekend.
With a pumped up crowd looking to help Leeds to another three points, it was a bright start from the home side and Patrick Bamford was inches from latching onto Hernandez’s cross inside the opening minutes.
Helder Costa then rolled Liam Moore and broke into the area, but his effort was just the wrong side of Rafael’s far post; early warnings for Bowen and a sign of how open the first-half would be.
Michael Olise – called into the Reading line-up late at the expense of Ovie Ejaria – was causing Luke Ayling problems and the Royals’ rapid attack was exposing plenty of space.
There was space for Leeds, though, with Mateusz Klich guilty of wasting good positions in the opening 20 minutes. Yet, there was a threat at the other end and George Puscas’ instinctive curling shot was beaten away by Kiko Casilla.
Bielsa was dealt the blow of losing Kalvin Phillips as the game ticked past the half-hour, with the midfield anchor limping off with a visible problem with his left leg. His withdrawal might’ve offered Reading more space on the break, but it did bring Leeds’ best spell as they went into half-time on the front-foot.
Hernandez wasted a good shooting position as he broke into the area before Liam Moore was forced into an excellent block to deny Costa, who had been picked out well by Jack Harrison from the left.
The Manchester City loanee then found Phillips’ replacement, Ezgjan Alioski, but his effort was straight at the sprawled Rafael.
Reading’s stopper was the busier of the two goalkeepers, but an open game hadn’t brought the clear-cut chances it sometimes does.
Leeds used that momentum to their advantage and came flying out of the traps in the second-half; Klich pushed a shot from range wide of Rafael’s post, before Costa dragged an effort off-target.
However, pressure was building and on 57 minutes, the Whites had a breakthrough in the form of Hernandez.
Klich and Costa worked Hernandez into a shooting position on the edge of the area; Moore blocked his first attempt, but a touch of composure and neat feet opened up another chance, which was rifled into the roof of the net.
Yakou Meite had a chance to respond instantly, but his wild free-kick never looked like testing Casilla and found the Leeds fans in the Kop.
Reading managed to take the sting out of some of Leeds’ attacking play following the goal, but Leeds were squeezing the life out of the game and not giving much away.
Puscas nearly capitalised on a moment of hesitation between Casilla and his defence, but the Royals striker could only lift the ball harmlessly over the bar.
Chances for Leeds to double their lead were minimal, however, with Bielsa’s side failing to carve much out of endless territory.
Rafael beat a Hernandez free-kick out of danger and Bamford lifted a long-range effort into the South Stand, with Elland Road forced to witness another nervy end.
Moore almost brought Leeds to their knees in stoppage time as he forced Casilla into an important save, with Puscas and Omar Richards failing to convert the rebound.
Full-time followed instantly, with Leeds putting another vital three points on the board to move five points clear of the chasing-pack on an afternoon where Bielsa’s side held their nerve when the rest of the Championship couldn’t.
Full-time: Leeds United 1-0 Reading FC.