For the third home game in succession, Leeds United managed just a solitary goal at Elland Road – and for the second time on the trot, it was enough to take the three points on offer. Although Aston Villa salvaged a draw after falling behind, the last two visitors to Elland Road, the Cities of Norwich and Hull, have departed without troubling the scorers – despite making the Whites weather some heavy pressure. It’s been a less than convincing run of home games for Leeds, but the ends have justified the means, with only the United fans’ bitten down nails telling the story of how nervy the performances have, by and large, been. But Leeds are starting to rise to the challenge of exploiting Elland Road’s cauldron-like atmosphere, something they’ve too often failed to do in the past.
Against Hull yesterday, a pre-match hammer-blow turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The absence of talisman Samu Saiz caused a collective groan among the 35,000 faithful who had congregated to worship United’s brightest star. It was a groan that rippled throughout social media, sending a frisson of apprehension through the virtual Leeds universe, all we of little faith wondering if we’d have the creativity to deal with our rivals from Humberside. But the enforced rest for Samu (tight calf, didn’t feel right, should be back for Burton away) meant a start for United’s Pablo Hernandez, and it was the little Latin genius who provided the decisive moment almost half an hour into a first half that Hull had threatened to dominate.
After the visitors had put Leeds on the back foot for the most part, creating presentable chances while the hosts huffed and puffed to no great effect, Hernandez seized upon a shockingly poor clearance from City’s previously untroubled keeper Allan McGregor; swiftly sizing up the situation, Pablo snapped up possession, moved forward and produced an outrageous dinked chip over the advancing McGregor, the ball dropping sweetly under the bar and into the net to give United an advantage that, after the Norwich game the previous week, you thought they might well hold onto.
In truth, Hull were less of a threat after the goal than before, just as their fans were largely silent once behind, having exhausted their repertoire of songs about dead perverts and cities of culture – an ironic enough playlist while it lasted. Afterwards, Hull manager Nigel Adkins bemoaned the lack of reward for his team’s industry, estimating a 3:1 ratio in his team’s favour on chances created. Leeds boss Thomas Christiansen was disarmingly honest: “We were lucky to take the three points,” he acknowledged.
One big reason behind that win was much-maligned Leeds keeper Felix Wiedwald, who produced a string of fine saves before United took the lead, one great example being a full-stretch tip around the post in the very first minute. Felix looked solid throughout, and it was reassuring to see him looking so confident and self-assured, without those occasional Sprake-esque howlers.
It was Hernandez who made the crucial difference, though, with Leeds creating little else of note other than a good effort from Gjanni Alioski as the interval approached. At the end of this derby, Leeds could reflect upon another gritty home performance and three points to see them back in the playoff zone. As for Hull, they had positives to take from their early domination, but departed for their City of Culture disappointed, chastened – well and truly Pablo’d.