Leeds United will sit on top of the Sky Bet Championship for Christmas after an injury-time winner by Kemar Roofe completed a fantastic comeback for a victory at Aston Villa.
Marcelo Bielsa’s men trailed 2-0 at half-time in front of the biggest crowd in the division this season, but stormed back for a 3-2 victory - their sixth in a row.
They left it late with Roofe netting his 11th goal of the season in the fifth minute of added time, but fully deserved their win in the end and could have won easier if referee Andy Madley had awarded any of three huge penalty shouts.
Pontus Jansson, who went on to score one of the goals for United, was grabbed in the area by Alan Hutton in the opening half, Roofe appeared to be pushed as he went for a high ball later and Glenn Whelan got away with a blatant handball as he blocked Roofe’s pull back.
No decisions were forthcoming on any of them so Villa could count themselves lucky to still be in the game to the finish.
But it was so different at the start as the hosts went at Leeds and looked a huge threat up front.
It appeared to be going wrong for Leeds before kick-off when they lost left-back Barry Douglas in the warm-up after he felt ill. This meant they had to blood young defender Leif Davis, who came in for his senior debut.
They did have Luke Ayling back after injury at right-back, but the defence was soon all at sea as they were carved open in the fifth minute, the ball falling nicely for Tammy Abraham in space in the box to plant his shot past Bailey Peacock-Farrell for the opening goal.
United had a good chance to hit straight back, but the recalled Jack Harrison could not get a clean contact close to goal after getting to a low cross from Kemar Roofe and the ball was cleared.
At the other end Jonathan Kodija headed wide from a corner before Villa made it 2-0 in the 17th minute.
After Harrison tamely gave the ball away deep in his own half it was worked onto Conor Hourihane who beat keeper Peacock-Farrell with a strike from outside the box.
Leeds did settle to play some better football and had a good opportunity as Ezgjan Alioski’s fine pass sent Mateusz Klich clear, but his shot with his left foot was tame and easily saved by Orjan Nyland.
The home keeper had another easy save from Pablo Hernandez’s 25-yard shot, but he was relieved to see Hernandez’s 20-yard free-kick flash inches wide of his post.
Right on half-time Alioski was found in space inside the area, but his shot went over.
Villa started the second half strongly and after Adam Forshaw was caught in possession near his own box Kodija fired a shot just over.
But the introduction of impressive youngster Jack Clarke at half-time proved a masterstroke and his first contribution was to score a goal that gave the Whites hope.
It was a cracker for his first goal in senior football as he cut in from the left wing at pace, beat the full-back and waltzed into the box to score with a great shot into the far corner of the net.
Clarke almost doubled his tally to minutes later when heading wide from an Alioski cross, but it was all square three minutes later as Pontus Jansson powerfully headed home from an Hernandez corner.
Leeds were pouring forward now and Klich saw his cross-shot tipped over by the keeper just a minute later. From the following corner the biggest of the penalty shouts followed when Whelan’s outstretched arm blocked Roofe’s attempted volley pull back.
Villa briefly exerted some pressure, but United survived comfortably enough with their only alarm when Yannick Bolasie got free on the left only to attempt a flick and send the ball wide.
At the other end, Alioski saw a shot beaten away by Nyland and Hernandez sent a shot wide after nutmegging Alan Hutton beautifully on the edge of the area.
Peacock-Farrell was forced to make a fine reaction save from his own player after Forshaw turned the ball towards his own net from a home corner.
But Leeds finished the game well as Klich saw a shot saved and they came up with their late winner as Alioski’s overhit cross was poorly cleared by Ahmed Elmohamady straight to Roofe, who drilled his shot into the bottom corner of the net for a goal that could be so huge come the end of the season.
Head coach Bielsa reckoned Leeds were value for their win.
He said: “It was a very beautiful game.
“We played against very important strikers. It was very difficult for us to neutralise them, but at the end of the day I think we deserved to win.
“Our players dared to play, they took many risks and they got the response they deserved.
“I thought we could win the game after the first 15 minutes when I saw that we could control their offensive players.
“In the first 15 minutes of both halves it was difficult for us to control the game, but then we gave good solutions to what happened inside both boxes and we went well from one box to the other, to attack and to defend.”
Aston Villa 2
(Abraham 5, Hourihane 17)
Leeds United 3
(Clarke 56, Jansson 61, Roofe 90+5)
Sunday, December 23, 2018
Sky Bet Championship
Aston Villa: Nyland, Elmohamady, Chester, Bree, Hutton, Whelan (Bjarneson 73), Kodija El Ghazi 61), Hourihane, McGinn, Bolasie (Hogan 84), Abraham.
Leeds: Peacock-Farrell, Ayling, Jansson, Phillips, Davis (Shackleton 72), Forshaw, Harrison (Clarke 45), Klich, Hernandez, Alioski, Roofe.
Referee: Andrew Madley.