Kyle Bartley’s 89th minute header clinched another three points for Leeds United as they found a way to beat Brentford in a hard fought game at Elland Road.
The 1-0 success ensured the Whites will go into Christmas established in the top six with their fans increasingly believing that this could be their year for promotion.
Against a Brentford side that made it hard all day United looked to be having to settle for a draw after they had not managed a single effort on target, but they summoned up the energy for a late attack and after Hadi Sacko won a corner they scored from it as Bartley came up from the back to head home Stuart Dallas’s cross.
In the end they did enough to earn all three points, but after a bright start Leeds found it tricky to open up a Brentford side employing a 3-5-2 formation that gave them an extra man in midfield at times.
The final ball was all that missing in the opening 15 minutes as United started where they left off against Reading in midfield, harrying their opponents and looking sharp on the break.
The best effort they could manage, though, was a Dallas shot that went high over the bar after Kemar Roofe had chosen to pass to him in the box when a shot may have been the better option.
At the other end, Lasse Vibe had the first chance for the visitors, but could only hit his shot from just inside the area straight at home keeper Rob Green.
Nico Yannaris then made space cleverly just outside the box only to see his shot deflected wide.
Leeds lost their way and if Brentford had been more ruthless they could have gone in one down at the break. They survived with their goal intact, however, as Harlee Dean’s shot from distance was comfortably saved, Romaine Sawyers shot over and had another effort blocked.
Scott Hogan had the ball in the net only to turn round and see the linesman’s flag rule out his effort.
After a long spell of defending Leeds finally broke out just before half-time when Roofe’s 20-yard shot was deflected wide after good build-up play.
The second half initially saw Brentford stay in control as a free-kick from Woods skipped off the head of Pontus Jansson and went wide.
Another free-kick led to a Dean header that was easily saved and John Egan then flicked a header just wide from yet another free-kick.
Just as Leeds fans were fearing the worst their side markedly improved in the last half-hour after creating their first really good chance, Luke Ayling taking a Dallas corner on his chest only to smack his volley over from close to goal.
Soon after Souleymane Doukara - playing up front in the absence of injured top scorer Chris Wood - found himself clear down the left and he cut in to be faced with a one-on-one with keeper Daniel Bentley only to shoot wide.
Another opportunity came and went on 70 minutes when Ayling fired wide after great work down the right by Sacko.
The winger was Leeds’ danger man with his team-mates looking to find him at every opportunity and it was fitting that it was his work that led to the winning goal as he got in behind the visitors’ defence and attempted to put in a low cross that was desperately cleared for a corner.
It was taken short and Dallas’ cross picked out centre-half Bartley who powered a header into the roof of the net.
Cue huge celebration, but United still had to hold onto the lead in four minutes of added time and they were slightly fortunate when Josh McEachran’s overhead kick clipped off the top of the crossbar. It was the last goalmouth action as Leeds had their victory which lifted them back to fifth place.
Head coach Garry Monk admitted his side found a way to win without being at their best.
He said: “It’s obvious we weren’t at our best. I thought we looked tired, especially in the first 60 minutes.
“We talked about it at half-time getting more speed in our play and we kept going.
“There’s that feeling in games like that there will always be that last chance and we must make sure it’s ours. It was important we got the three points.
“We defended very well, but we huffed and puffed a little bit today. We kept going, we kept trying. We were getting into good opportunities, but it was that final pass that was letting us down.
“I think the roof come off the place when the goal went in. I think the fans are enjoying it and they are understanding that this group is giving 100 per cent.
“We don’t want to make it as close as that. But credit to Brentford, they made it hard. We found a way to win, which is what good teams do.”
Leeds United 1
Saturday, December 17, 2016
Leeds: Green, Ayling, Bartley, Jansson, Taylor (Berardi 58), Phillips (Bridcutt 71), Vieira, Sacko, Dallas, Roofe, Doukara (Antonsson 79).
Brentford: Bentley, Colin, Egan, Dean, Bjelland, Field (Barbet 83), Woods, Yannaris (McEachran 71), Sawyers, Vibe (Kaikai 78), Hogan.
Referee: Darren Bond.