Chris Wood’s header on the stroke of half-time gave Leeds United a thoroughly deserved victory over Derby County to climb to the giddy heights of third place in the EFL Championship.
The final 1-0 score did not do justice to a superb all-round display from Garry Monk’s men as they outclassed and outfought opponents who are big rivals for promotion and now stand eight points behind Leeds.
Right from the kick-off they tore into the Rams, forcing nine corners in the first 23 minutes and doing all but score in an opening that left the visitors shellshocked but somehow still in the game.
Wood’s header from a Pablo Hernandez corner eventually saw the deadlock broken and United held onto their advantage after the break when they came close to adding to their score.
Leeds were inches away from killing the game off in the opening quarter as several crosses just cleared players by inches, a Hernandez cross-shot somehow just evaded Wood and a Hernandez free-kick flicked off the defensive wall to narrowly clear the crossbar.
Kyle Bartley appeared to be pushed down in the box as he tried to meet Hernandez’s corner, but referee Scott Duncan waved away appeals.
Ronaldo Vieira fired over from range while Souleymane Doukara came in from his left flank position with a nice drag back to open space on the edge of the box, but his 25-yard shot went just wide.
Liam Bridcutt saw a swerving 20-yard shot tipped over by former Leeds keeper Scott Carson and from the resulting corner Carson did it again to deny Bartley.
Centre-back Bartley went close again a minute later when he could not quite put enough power behind his header to give the keeper a comfortable save.
Another corner saw Leeds miss their best chance when the ball fell to Bartley at the far post, but the defender somehow put the ball wide from five yards out.
Derby finally got some respite and Tom Ince offered a threat with a clever run into the box that was only denied by a tackle from home keeper Rob Green.
Bradley Johnson hit a long range volley over before United were back on attack again with Kemar Roofe’s 20-yard shot comfortably saved by Carson.
Right on half-time Leeds had the goal their play deserved as Wood climbed well to meet Hernandez’s corner to plant his header into the top corner of the net for his 17th goal of the season.
Derby almost equalised straight away as Ince’s shot was palmed away by Green.
Derby manager Steve McClaren made two changes at half-time and his side looked better initially as they got on the ball with sub Will Hughes looking to have added a real threat.
United breathed a sigh of relief when Green’s kick cannoned back off Bent into the net, but the referee ruled he had handled the ball. Strangely no yellow card followed.
Leeds survived the brief pressure and began to get on top again with Doukara scuffing a shot wide following Hernandez’s pull back.
Wood found himself in space in the box only to see his shot blocked then Gaetano Berardi sent a volley inches over from the edge of the area.
The outstanding Vieira saw a shot beaten away by Carson on 76 minutes and from the rebound the equally brilliant Hernandez’s clever shot went just past the post.
Roofe, another to impress on the night, ran at the derby defence to open space for a shot only for the ball to flash just wide.
Derby’s night was summed up a minute from time as Johnson blocked Stuart Dallas’s run and was sent-off on his return to Elland Road, having earlier been booked.
Leeds saw the end of the game comfortably and could have added to their lead as Alex Mowatt scuffed a shot from the edge of the box and Vieira was denied by Carson after playing a one-two with Wood.
How the game stayed 1-0 was anyone’s guess, but this was a hugely impressive performance to make the rest of the division sit up and take notice.
Delighted Leeds head coach Garry Monk stopped short of saying it was his side’s best display of the season, but was full of praise for the players.
He said: “I am extremely proud of the group tonight.
“I wanted the players to show everything we have been building, in front of the cameras, to show the crowd and against a good team like Derby - and we did it.
“You do think is that goal going to come when you have good chances like we did, but it came and apart for about five minutes in the second I thought we dominated.
“From start to finish it was an excellent performance. We had a real stranglehold in the first 45 and didn’t let them breathe. We played some good football and looked dangerous from set pieces.
“The atmosphere was unbelievable again, that old school atmospheric ground with the fans pushing us over the line. Everyone is pushing in the right direction.”
Leeds United 1
Derby County 0
Friday, January 13, 2017
Leeds: Green, Coyle, Ayling, Bartley, Berardi, Bridcutt, Vieira, Roofe (Dallas 79), Hernandez (Mowatt 86), Doukara, Wood.
Derby: Carson, Baird, Shackell, Keogh, Hanson, De Sart (Hughes 45), Bryson, Johnson (sent-off 89), Ince, Camara (Vydra 45), Bent (Nugent 68).
Referee: Scott Duncan.