By the final whistle half the pitch was cast in chill shadow and the remainder illuminated by bright April sunshine. On the day Leeds broke through the 40-point barrier and Sheffield United took another inexorable step towards the Championship, it seemed symbolic of the contrasting fortunes of these Yorkshire rivals.
Yet if it ultimately proved an unhappy return to Elland Road for Leeds’s former manager Paul Heckingbottom, Marcela Bielsa’s predecessor at least oversaw a marked second-half improvement.
Granted, Leeds missed sufficient early chances to have won much more comfortably but, with their guests refusing to surrender, Oliver Burke came close as Sheffield United ultimately forced Bielsa’s tiring team into semi-retreat.
The home players warmed up wearing tops emblazoned with “No7” and “RIP Peter Hotshot Lorimer”. It was two weeks since the death of Elland Road’s record goalscorer and, appropriately, Bielsa dedicated the win to the memory of a man who, until fairly recently, was a regular here.
“It’s very difficult for victory to compensate for the loss of someone,” said the Leeds manager. “But it’s better to have one to say goodbye to an extraordinary person.”
Jack Harrison’s seventh goal of the season gave Leeds a 12th-minute lead. The opposite of a high velocity Lorimer-esque rocket into the top corner, his simple tap-in arrived thanks to an amalgam of Raphinha’s wonderful close control and Patrick Bamford’s clever decoy manoeuvre .
When Tyler Roberts’s pass found Raphinha, the ball seemed super-glued to the right winger’s feet as he bypassed Enda Stevens before rolling the ball across the six-yard box for Harrison to apply the final touch.
The visitors’ defenders were pulled out of position by Bamford, while Raphinha once again underlined his credentials as a leading candidate for England’s signing of the season. The first-half dynamism and diligence with which Kalvin Phillips and company closed down their opponents all but suffocated Sheffield United.
Meslier was barely involved until conceding the equaliser on the brink of half-time. Indicating he is not quite perfect after all, Raphinha lost concentration, prefacing the way for John Fleck’s creativity, Oli McBurnie’s shot, Meslier’s parry and Ben Osborn lashing the ball home. Luke Ayling thought he had cleared it but goal-line technology proved otherwise.
If Leeds had self destructed they were rightly aggrieved at Graham Scott’s earlier failure to send off, or even book, George Baldock in the wake of an awful, two-footed, thoroughly reckless challenge on Roberts. A blow to the head sustained during that wince-inducing clash led to Baldock departing a little later, apparently concussed.
Heckingbottom subsequently looked dismayed as Phil Jagielka turned the ball into his own net after endeavouring to prevent Harrison’s cross reaching the waiting Raphinha.
Instead of building on that advantage, Bielsa’s suddenly heavy-legged players lost a little focus, turning slapdash as the bottom-placed Blades reacquainted their hosts with self doubt.
Heckingbottom’s players had not done enough to prevent Leeds reaching 42 points. “The effort and fight was there,” he said. “But there were too many moments when we lacked quality.”