Leeds United maintained their unbeaten start to the 2019/20 season with a magnificent 3-0 win against Stoke City on Saturday afternoon, piling the pressure on under-fire Potters boss Nathan Jones.
Both sides share the same aspirations of winning promotion to the Premier League this season, but they have made very contrasting starts to the campaign, with Stoke sitting rock bottom of the league before the weekend’s fixture.
The Potters succumbed to their third defeat of the season in midweek, prompting Nathan Jones into making six changes from the side that lost 3-1 to Preston North End on Wednesday night – with Jack Butland being benched for Adam Federici after a horror show at Deepdale.
Leeds occupied top spot going into the clash at the bet365 Stadium, though there was just the one change for Marcelo Bielsa’s team at the weekend – Gaetano Berardi coming in for the injured Liam Cooper, as midweek goalscorer Eddie Nketiah remained on the bench.
It was the hosts who started the game brightly, forcing an early corner after impressive wing-play from James McClean – the resulting delivery falling to the unmarked Liam Lindsay who failed to connect with the cross.
The pendulum then began to swing in Leeds’ favour though, with Bielsa’s men having arguably one of the best chances of the half. The ball dropped for Pablo Hernandez ten yards out, however his shot was saved by Federici and Mateusz Klich scuffed the following rebound.
Leeds struggled to get into full swing and play with the same fast-paced, high-pressing football we associate with Bielsa’s side, but as the half began to enter its latter stages, it was the Whites who broke the deadlock.
After smart, intricate, one-touch football in midfield, Patrick Bamford found Pablo Hernandez, who picked out a perfectly weighted, first-time through-ball to the advancing right-back Stuart Dallas, who slotted the ball home with ease.
That was the first bit of quality from either side in the opening 45 minutes, with Stoke failing to make their spells of possession count. McClean, who allowed Dallas to run in behind for the goal, had been putting in some teasing deliveries down the left, but to no avail as the teams headed down the tunnel for the interval.
Jones will have been urging his side to shore up defensively after a poor showing in the first half, but they started off the second half catastrophically and Leeds made them pay again.
Bielsa’s side once again moved the ball superbly with Hernandez finding Bamford in the box, whose low cross was met at the back post by Gjanni Alioski – the Macedonian tapping into an empty net on 49 minutes.
It was two full-backs getting on the scoresheet for Leeds, with Stoke showing exactly why they have conceded 13 goals in the first five league games of the season. McClean and Tom Edwards lost track of their men for each goal, as the visitors continued to threaten.
Bielsa’s men could well have had a third goal on the hour mark as they began to get into their groove – as Stoke committed men forward, Leeds broke with Jack Harrison in a two-on-one situation, but the Manchester City loanee lost control of the ball with Klich in acres of space to his left.
But the Yorkshire side did go and grab their third goal of the afternoon shortly after. Another sumptuous ball from Hernandez found Alioski who got in behind and his shot was saved by Federici, but Bamford was there to convert for his fourth goal of the season.
After bringing on Scott Hogan before Leeds’ third goal, Stoke made their final changes of the afternoon with the game dead and buried. Joe Allen and Tom Ince coming on for Cameron Carter-Vickers and Lee Gregory respectively.
There was also a change for Leeds, with goalscorer Bamford being replaced by Eddie Nketiah, who won the game in midweek.
That goal in midweek came after superb play from Helder Costa, who replaced Hernandez on Saturday with 79 minutes on the clock. The Portuguese winger, after a series of passes from Leeds, had a shot tipped wide after an acrobatic save by Federici.
As the game entered the latter stages, the visitors had a swagger and were in control. Their travelling support cheered every pass they made, before Klich’s shot was deflected onto the post from the edge of the area.
Adam Forshaw could, and perhaps should have opened his Leeds United account with a goal in the dying embers of the match, but his shot was saved fantastically by Federici eight yards out, with Jamie Shackleton failing to convert on the rebound.
But after a thoroughly impressive second-half display, it was Leeds who recorded their fourth victory of the season as the final whistle blew after three minutes were added on.
Whilst it wasn’t the greatest of performances from Leeds in the opening 45 minutes, they got the all-important goal and blew Stoke away with an excellent second-half showing, cementing their place at the top of the Championship.
With the hosts failing to pick up yet another victory, the pressure is well and truly on for Jones, as the Potters remain bottom of the pile.