After three clean sheets the Whites did concede something of a giveaway goal to visitors QPR last Saturday, but once again they did a good job at keeping their opponents at arm’s length for much of the game.
They had to survive a late onslaught as QPR threw everything but the kitchen sink at them in the final 15 minutes, but held on with few alarms to see out a 2-1 win that kept them in second place in the Sky Bet Championship and put them five points clear of third now ahead of the away game at Bolton Wanderers this Saturday.
United have seldom relied on a less experienced set of defenders than they had on the pitch at the end so it was no mean feat to get to the finish unscathed. Only Pontus Jansson and Barry Douglas had played at the back at Championship level before this season with the rest of the defence made up of Jamie Shackleton in only his second league start and Kalvin Phillips, thought of only as a midfielder before the arrival of Marcelo Bielsa.
To those ranks was added another rookie in the closing stages as the head coach turned to 20-year-old Aapo Halme to ease the threat of giant striker Matt Smith, who home fans knew all about from his days at Elland Road. Throw in the fact that goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell has yet to complete a full season in the senior team and it was very definitely another one in the plus column for this Leeds team.
The fact that Shackleton was a big candidate for man of the match after a confident and energetic display at right-back said everything about how the players are responding to their challenges this season.
United had no less than four full-backs unavailable for the game with Stuart Dallas being the latest to fall victim to the injury curse that has been threatening to derail the campaign. And with centre-back Liam Cooper also set to be out until the middle of January at least resources continue to be stretched – and yet remarkably they coped once again.
It does appear they did finally get through a game without further injury, however, and there is some hope on the horizon with Luke Ayling set to be back before the end of the month and £7m striker Patrick Bamford recovered sufficiently to be on the bench for the QPR game.
He was an unused substitute, but will not find it easy to gain a starting place if Kemar Roofe keeps up the scoring form that saw him bag two more goals last weekend to take his tally up to 10 for the season.
Bamford’s time will come, however, and he showed what he can bring to the party with a hat-trick in the under 23s against Burnley this week.