Victory may have owed something to fortune with the winning goal, but Leeds United were good value for the 2-1 success over Bolton Wanderers that started their tough week in positive fashion according to head coach Marcelo Bielsa.
Ezgjan Alioski’s mis-hit cross deceived Bolton goalkeeper Remi Matthews and ended up in the back of the net for a 69th minute winner after Patrick Bamford’s first half penalty had earlier been cancelled out by Mark Beevers’ equaliser.
Bielsa admitted the visitors had given his side some problems, but once again the Whites had created enough chances to have won more convincingly.
He said: “It was a very similar game to other games we’ve played so far.
“We had chances to score and we didn’t take them. We suffered on set-pieces.
“They were a team who fought a lot, but we had many chances to score and we missed a lot of them.
“The dangerous situations created by the opponent were from set-pieces especially and these things have happened to us many times in this Championship.
“But there’s a difference in the manner of how we played the last minutes of the game, compared to the other game we played against Swansea. We showed a little bit more maturity.”
Although at the wrong end of the table Bolton showed they had not come to make the numbers up as early as the second minute when they could have taken the lead as Josh Magennis was left unmarked in the area only to see his header superbly saved by Kiko Casilla after Callum Connolly had left Pablo Hernandez for dead down the left flank.
United’s first sight of goal saw Alioski’s overhit free-kick have to be turned over by Matthews, but home keeper Casilla had to be alert at the other end, racing out of his area to get to the ball just ahead of Clayton Donaldson as the Bolton striker got clear of Pontus Jansson to race onto a long ball.
When Leeds opened the scoring it was something of a surprise as they were given only their second penalty of the season. Referee Tony Harrington had no doubts when Tyler Roberts was sent sprawling in the area and Bamford stepped up to score from the spot.
Bamford and Roberts had both wanted to take the penalty, but the taker was sorted out by Luke Ayling on the pitch and the outcome was to prove successful.
Bielsa later revealed that Kemar Roofe was his preferred penalty taker but with the forward injured no-one had specifically been given the job.
He explained: “When Roofe plays it is Roofe. As Roofe wasn’t on the pitch we didn’t have anyone designated. On penalties there’s one point that’s very important. Usually the player who takes the ball just after it’s been given has an advantage, because he shows that he’s got the confidence.”
Bamford’s successful spot kick was not the cue for Leeds to go on and enjoy an easy afternoon, however, and they found themselves level within seven minutes.
After David Wheater’s header from a corner was cleared off the line the follow-up shot by Joe Williams was well blocked by Kalvin Phillips only for the ball to drop for centre-back Beevers to have an easy job to score.
It could have got worse for United as Donaldson headed wide from a free-kick and Magennis sent a volley wide from a controversially awarded free-kick.
But gradually towards the interval Leeds got their usual passing game going and created several half-chances without being able to score.
Bamford and Jack Harrison both saw efforts saved while Roberts hit a shot wide. Bamford’s near post shot earned a corner with Matthews again saving and Bamford’s well struck shot from the edge of box forced the Wanderers keeper into another decent save low down.
The good work continued into the second half with Matthews out quickly to deny Hernandez as he chased a ball down the middle and Ayling sending a low shot inches wide following an incisive break involving Mateusz Klich and Hernandez.
Bolton showed they could still be dangerous as Williams’s 20-yard shot was beaten away by Casilla and the rebound headed straight to the keeper by Magennis.
But Leeds were on top now and should have increased their lead when Bamford could only finish weakly, sending the ball wide, following good play by Hernandez.
They did make it 2-1, however, though Alioski’s effort, which had followed excellent play in midfield by Klich.
A minute later a bit of a melee on the touchline followed a foul by Magennis on Alioski. The Bolton striker was, perhaps, fortunate he only received a yellow card, but his manager, Phil Parkinson, was not as he had left his technical area to calm his players down and was sent-off.
United continued to look for goals and once more Bamford was denied by Matthews with a near post shot.
Substitute Stuart Dallas, on his return after injury, was next to be denied by Matthews.
Magennis saw his shot from range saved at the other end before the home supporters breathed a collective sigh of relief as the game went into injury-time with Sammy Ameobi’s well struck 25-yard shot whistling just past the post with Casilla beaten.
Leeds should have made the points safe when Bamford shot straight at the keeper when found unmarked in the area, but they saw out more than six minutes of added time - when only five had been signalled - to collect a vital three points to stay in the top three in the Sky Bet Championship.
Leeds United 2
(Bamford 16, pen, Alioski 69)
Bolton Wanderers 1
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Sky Bet Championship
Leeds: Casilla, Ayling (Shackleton 90+3), Jansson, Cooper, Alioski, Phillips, Hernandez, Klich, Roberts (Dallas 81), Harrison, Bamford.
Bolton: Matthews, Olkowski, Wheater, Beevers, Connolly, O’Neil, Williams (Murphy 86), Lowe, Donaldson (Ameobi 74), Noone (Buckley 81), Magennis.
Referee: Tony Harrington.