Leeds win highlights Marcelo Bielsa's great challenge still to come
It was a goal that Leeds United supporters may have thought was simply never coming.
It appeared that Marcelo Bielsa’s side were about to hand Brentford a further boost in their stunning push for automatic-promotion.
A 0-0 draw away at Swansea City kept Leeds top. But it opened the door for the Bees to potentially move to within one point of the Whites before Bielsa’s men get the chance to play again.
With three games remaining, and memories of last season refusing to go away for so many supporters, Leeds could surely ill-afford to let two points slip through their grasp at this stage.
But then, with 89 minutes on the clock, Luke Ayling found Pablo Hernandez inside the Swansea box. The pass from the right-back – who had run virtually the length of the pitch in the attack – was deflected, and Hernandez needed to take a touch to get the ball out of his feet.
But once the ball was under control, Hernandez guided his effort into what looked to be the one place that neither the crowd of Swansea players or goalkeeper Freddie Woodman would be able to get to.
Hernandez had found the goal that, in truth, no Leeds player looked like scoring. And with that, the Whites are now four points away from the Premier League.
Hernandez puts Leeds squad on cusp of greatness
There is still work to do, but Leeds’s pole position is as convincing as the one Lewis Hamilton secured the previous day when he finished more than 1.2 seconds clear of any rival in qualifying for the Styrian Grand Prix.
Like Hamilton, Hernandez is 35 years of age. And yet, it is becoming almost impossible to argue that either man has ever been better.
The Spaniard has scored eight goals and contributed seven assists in the Championship this season. And given that Bielsa has not handed him a single start since the campaign’s resumption, it would appear that Hernandez is helping take Leeds towards the line while short of being fully fit.
Hernandez has played 195 minutes since the season restarted. That means that he has been involved in just over a third of Leeds’s last six games.
And yet, he has been on the pitch for eight of Leeds’s 13 goals across those games, scoring two himself.
Hernandez is coming towards the end of his fourth season at Elland Road. No player has done more to get Leeds back to the Premier League – and thanks to his goal, they are now so nearly there.
Should Leeds get across the line, Bielsa will have achieved what was surely the main objective when he came to Yorkshire in 2018.
But perhaps, the latest win highlighted how one of his greatest challenges at Leeds is still to come.
Replacing Hernandez looks to be daunting challenge for Bielsa
As difficult as it currently is to imagine, Leeds will, one day, have to face up to life without Hernandez in their ranks.
Right now, replacing Hernandez looks to be an almost impossible task. For all of the talent and potential Leeds possess, there is arguably no one who is quite ready to step into his shoes.
The task may become slightly easier should Leeds get promoted and enjoy the riches that being in the Premier League provides.
But it looks to be a daunting proposition for Bielsa as things stand.
Bielsa appears to be on the cusp of guiding Leeds over what many would have said would be his biggest hurdle.
But a similarly-large obstacle may well stand in front of the Leeds boss on the day he can no longer turn to the Spanish maestro to produce his magic.