An own goal by Phil Jagielka was enough to help Leeds United clinch a deserved 2-1 victory in an engaging Yorkshire derby against rivals Sheffield United at Elland Road.
The home side raced into an early lead, thanks to Jack Harrison’s goal, but they were pegged back when Ben Osborn equalised for the Blades on the stroke of half-time.
Yet it took just four minutes of the second half for Leeds to restore their lead, and ultimately claim a win that moves them into the top half of the Premier League table in 10th, whilst also sealing the Whites’ first top-flight league double over Sheffield United in 29 years.
Meanwhile, Paul Heckingbottom’s Blades remain in bottom place, still winless in three matches under their interim manager, with relegation to the Championship edging nearer to being confirmed after a 24th league loss in 30 games.
On a cool, sunny Saturday afternoon in West Yorkshire, the absence of supporters for this much-anticipated encounter was sorely felt ahead of kick-off, as Leeds’ customary pre-match anthem “Marching On Together” echoed eerily from the tannoy system around an empty Elland Road as the players walked out onto the pitch.
Fortunately, this did not impact the game’s quality or intensity, as was shown by a lively opening ten minutes, with Sheffield United goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale making two good saves to his right-hand side from efforts by Kalvin Phillips and Stuart Dallas respectively within the space of a minute.
On the eleventh minute though, the home side did manage to break the deadlock with a well-earned opener, initiated by Stuart Dallas tigerishly winning the ball in midfield, after which a quick attacking move saw Raphinha skip past Blades defender George Baldock, before his cut-back provided Jack Harrison with an empty net to tap the ball into.
From then on, Leeds continued to gain the ascendancy, settling into their usual rhythm of continuous passing and well-orchestrated pressing when regaining possession, and they would have justifiably doubled their lead before half-time, had it not been for an excellent one-on-one save by Ramsdale, which denied Harrison a brace.
Sheffield United appeared to lack any real incisiveness in their attacking play for most of the first half, unsurprising for a team who had scored a paltry sixteen league goals heading into this game, and scoreless in their last five away games in all competitions.
However, the Blades carved open a breakthrough just before the interval when some fleet-footedness from John Fleck and a David McGoldrick pass led to an Oli McBurnie shot, which was duly blocked but the rebound fell to left wing-back Ben Osborn who scored his first Premier League goal, with the aid of goal-line technology.
This was the first goal they had scored under their interim manager, Paul Heckingbottom, who incidentally was Marcelo Bielsa’s managerial predecessor at Elland Road.
Unfortunately for him, any momentum Sheffield United might have built with their equaliser was swiftly quashed four minutes into the second half when Leeds regained the lead, after an excellent diagonal ball from Tyler Roberts found Harrison on the left-hand side, whose low cross was poked into the net by the Blades’ veteran defender Phil Jagielka.
Just two minutes on, Leeds midfielder Stuart Dallas, almost stylishly capped off his industrious display with a curled effort from 25 yards that clipped the crossbar.
In the end, Leeds were good value for their victory in the match, but were unable to add to their two-goal tally in the second half, despite a number of further chances, most notably when Patrick Bamford was prevented an opportunity to get on the scoresheet, thanks to a brilliant flying save from Ramsdale.
Tomorrow actually marks twenty years to the day that Leeds dismantled Spanish side Deportivo La Coruna in the Champions League quarter-finals in what was arguably the acme of the club’s modern history.
With today’s victory setting the club on the way to a potential top-half Premier League finish for the first time in nineteen years, there may be much cause to say Leeds are finally starting to re-establish themselves once again in English football’s top-flight.
Conversely, today’s defeat for Sheffield United essentially accelerates their inevitable relegation to the Championship next season, in what has been a deflating denouement to an incredible journey for the Blades that had led them to a ninth-place Premier League finish last season.
Leeds United: Meslier; Ayling, Llorente, Cooper (C), Alioski; Phillips; Raphinha, Dallas (Koch 90+3’) Roberts (Klich 81’), Harrison; Bamford (Rodrigo 65’). Subs not used: Poveda, Casilla, Costa, Hernandez, Struijk, Shackleton
Sheffield United: Ramsdale; Bogle (Brewster 73’), Baldock (Ampadu 45′), Jagielka, Stevens, Osborn; Lundstram, Norwood (Burke 65’), Fleck; McGoldrick, McBurnie (Egan 77’). Subs not used: Foderingham, Mousset, Lowe, Bryan, Ndiaye
Referee: Graham Scott
Yellow cards: Leeds United: Rodrigo
Sheffield United: Lundstram, McGoldrick
Scorers: Leeds United: Harrison (12’), Jagielka (OG, 49’)
Sheffield United: Osborn (45+2’)
Man of the Match: Stuart Dallas (Leeds United)
- Leeds have won 13 games from their 30 Premier League games, the most by a promoted team at this stage since Reading in 2006-07.
- Sheffield United have lost their 24th league game of the season – only on two occasions have they lost more league games in their history – 26 in 1975/76 (Div 1) and 2010/11 (Championship)
- Leeds have scored the most goals (47) by a promoted team at this stage of a Premier League season since Sunderland in 1999/00
- Only Richard Dunne (10) has scored more Premier League own goals than Phil Jagielka. (7)
- Sheffield United have only won one of their sixteen top-flight visits at Elland Road against Leeds.
Image by Paul Allison