Warm Down: Leeds United 3-0 Fulham
LEEDS, ENGLAND - JUNE 27: Leeds United's Jack Harrison celebrates scoring his side's third goal with teammates during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Fulham at Elland Road on June 27, 2020 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images)

Leeds United can breathe once more.

In a game fraught with significance at the summit of the Sky Bet Championship, Marcelo Bielsa called the shots and Pablo Hernandez applied the gloss as Leeds dispatched Fulham to strengthen their grasp on promotion.

Leeds' 2-0 defeat at Cardiff City last weekend appeared to blow the automatic promotion doors wide open, and Fulham - with their vast attacking riches - had been billed as the strongest contenders to the top two. 

This perception, though, existed prior to the return of football and after consecutive defeats, it seems Fulham's race is run as far as automatic promotion goes. They had Bielsa's men on the backfoot in the first half, but couldn't make their dominance count.

The win pulls Leeds three points clear of the Baggies in first place, and, more importantly, eight points clear of Brentford, who have fired their way into contention with two seismic victories since the restart. The Bees are in the ascendancy and will have to be monitored closely across the final furlongs.

Leeds' safety cushion is large, but there are, don't forget, precedents when it comes to Leeds and late-season capitulations. And if the Championship's taught us anything over the past decade, it's that you should never rest on your laurels.

This, though, was a mature performance from the division’s frontrunners at a critical time. Leeds are a different side to the one that imploded so famously last season; they're fitter, stronger, smarter.

Barring a Devon Loch-style collapse, the promised land beckons after a seemingly age-old wait.

A different way to win for Leeds

If there were concerns about lethargy and rust in the 2-0 defeat to Cardiff, there were none yesterday. 

Amidst the eerie Elland Road atmosphere - a ground which, despite its artificial crowd noise and cardboard cut-outs, scarcely communicated the urgency of the match - the hosts maintained their intensity and energy levels throughout.

Upon returning to training, every Leeds player beat their running times from before lockdown, and their physical prowess came to the fore during a match in which Leeds had no option but to roll with the punches. "Murderball"  - the infamous practice match with no set plays that Bielsa hardens his players with in training - seemed to pay dividends.

That said, it was the visitors who seized control of the first-half after Patrick Bamford slotted Helder Costa's square ball past Marek Rodak inside 10 minutes. 

The red away shirts piled into Leeds' half, pressing high and winning the ball back quickly. Anthony Knockaert and Aleksandar Mitrovic both advertised the equaliser, the latter with a venomous volley from distance, and were it not for some uncharacteristic profligacy, their dominance would have materialised.  

Half-time, though, saw Bamford hauled off despite his early goal. A tactical issue was the crux of Bielsa's reasoning behind the decision:

"In the first half, it was difficult to keep the ball after we recovered it. So, I thought we must try a different option with Tyler Roberts and Pablo Hernandez to manage the attack of the team better," he told Sky Sports after the match.

Hernandez came on and did just that, knitting together the midfield with grace and composure. After Ezgjan Alioski drilled home Leeds' second, the Spaniard - on the half-turn - swept a majestic 35-yard pass into the path of Jack Harrison on the left flank, who scurried past Joe Bryan and prodded in between the legs of Rodak to seal the three points.

Two counterattacks, two goals - Bielsa had waved his tactical wand and suddenly Leeds were a changed side. The second half proved a masterclass in the art of attacking transition.

Leeds seldom have less possession than their opponents, but rarely are they so clinical. 

Mitrovic set to face three-game ban

Mitrovic will be keen to erase yesterday's events from his memory, and not just because he drew a blank in front of goal.

The Serb laboured all afternoon with nothing to attack in the air, but there was nothing to excuse a particular incident two minutes into the match. 

As Ben White controlled the ball and prepared to volley upfield, Mitrovic, closing White down, appeared to follow through with a malicious elbow into the jaw of the 22-year-old. The action went unpunished by the officials, but further reports are suggesting that the FA may take retrospective action, possibly resulting in a three-game ban for the Championship's joint-top scorer.

This, unquestionably, is the doomsday scenario for Scott Parker, even if he was unaware of the incident at the time.

"During the game I didn’t see it as an issue really but I've not seen it over again so it would be unfair for me to comment on that really," Parker told Sky Sports.

There were, however, redeeming features in Fulham's performance yesterday. Leeds may have managed to cut off the main supply line to Mitrovic by applying constant pressure to the widemen and blocking crosses, but, on the whole, Parker's men played well.

"I think overall, the performance, certainly in the first half was exceptional really," he said at his post-match press conference.

"We came here with a real purpose about us to go and win the game and put it to a very good Leeds side, a top Leeds team that has navigated their way around this division for a few years now and I thought we were superb in that really."

He continued: "In the first half we probably need to put one away and the efficiency of Leeds at times, certainly in the second half as well, for all our chances and theirs really, they were more efficient in the final third. I think that was the run of it." 

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