Leeds took another big step towards the Premier League as they thumped Stoke 5-0 to go back top of the Championship.
Mateusz Klich broke the deadlock with a penalty shortly before the break at Elland Road, while Helder Costa, Liam Cooper, Pablo Hernandez and Patrick Bamford completed the rout after half-time.
Stoke drop a place in the Championship after such a heavy defeat. They are now 21st, just a point and a place above the relegation zone.
Leeds, meanwhile, move back a point above West Brom and six clear of Brentford in third with just four games to go. They now need just seven points to guarantee their return to the top flight.
Leeds move closer to Premier League return
Leeds, as they usually do, dominated the game from the off, but were largely frustrated by Stoke throughout most of the first half. After 22 minutes, they came so close to taking the lead as Bamford raced through and dinked one over Jack Butland, but James McClean got back to the line to clear, before Danny Batth then threw himself at Tyler Robert’s follow-up effort.
All Stoke’s resilience was blown away in one wild moment just before the break, however. Tommy Smith unnecessarily chopped down Costa in the corner of the area, as the Leeds midfielder ran away from goal, and Klich stepped up to coolly send Butland the wrong way from 12 yards.
Michael O’Neill made a change at the break as he put on James Chester to sit in central defence, but the change immediately cost Stoke as the veteran centre-back allowed Costa in far too easily to poke home a second on 47 minutes after good work from Stuart Dallas to find him.
The job was completed 10 minutes later as they carved Stoke open again. Kalvin Phillips found Hernandez, who then fed it low into the box for captain Cooper – was still up from a corner – and he smartly clipped one off the inside of the near post with his left peg.
Hernandez – who only came on at half-time – capped off a fine cameo as finished low from the edge of the box after being teed up by Costa on 72 minutes, and Leeds grabbed a fifth with virtually the last kick of the game as Luke Ayling sent a 50-yard ball over the top for Bamford, who finished low across the goalkeeper.
Man of the Match – Helder Costa
If Hernandez had been on from the start, it could well have gone to him. But Costa celebrated signing his permanent deal with Leeds by helping to break the deadlock by winning the penalty that Klich converted, then reacting well to put the game beyond Stoke with their second. He was a menace all evening to the Potters backline and also helped create their fourth for Hernandez.
What the managers said…
Leeds’ Marcelo Bielsa: “It was difficult for us to impose ourselves in the first half, but the penalty helped us. After we scored early in the second half it made it easier for the rest of the match.
“[Hernandez had a big impact on the pitch and he was very intelligent with the places he puts himse on the pitch, and his passes are very accurate. He’s a player who makes a lot of impact.
“There are 12 points left [to play for] and the difference is important, but not definitive.”
Stoke’s Michael O’Neill: “We made it impossible for ourselves at times. We set out to make it difficult for them and we did that right up until half-time, and then it was a really poor challenge to give away the penalty. It was needless. Then it becomes very difficult. We conceded shortly after half-time and from there we’re never getting back into the game.
“They were excellent, but these aren’t the types of games that will decide whether we stay up. Leeds are a team that are a long way from where we are at the moment. So we’ve just got to make sure we’re ready for the final four games.”
Both sides are back in action at 1.30pm on Sunday. Stoke host Birmingham – live on Sky Sports Football from 1pm. Leeds travel to Swansea.