FULL-TIME: Leeds United 1, Bristol City 0
Ross McCormack broke Bristol City hearts once more to deliver victory for Leeds United in today’s npower Championship clash at Elland Road.
So often a thorn in City’s side during his time with Cardiff, the Scotland striker grabbed a last-gasp winner to send the Robins spiralling to defeat in Yorkshire last season.
And he maintained his excellent scoring record against City this afternoon, netting the only goal of a dour contest to leave the visitors further adrift at the foot of the Championship table.
But at least the Robins can take heart from a vastly-improved defensive display against a team pushing to make the play-offs.
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New head coach Sean O’Driscoll may only have been in charge for six days, but he still managed to bring his organisational skills to bear upon a side that showed five changes to the one out-played by Leicester last time out.
Seeking their first clean sheet since April 21, City held out until 67 minutes when McCormack headed in a Ross Barkley centre to establish daylight between two well-matched sides.
Although the visitors demonstrated plenty of fight and spirit, they are now seven points adrift of safety after Sheffield Wednesday picked up a point at home to Wolves.
City made an encouraging start, a Neil Kilkenny free kick causing uncertainty at the heart of the home defence in the opening moments. Centre-back Liam Fontaine threatened to take advantage as the ball bobbled on the edge of the six yard box, forcing Tom Lees to clear the danger.
Despite beating Birmingham in midweek to land an attractive FA Cup fourth round tie against Tottenham, Leeds lacked energy and ideas and a subdued Elland Road crowd had precious little to excite them until McCormack fired wide from a free kick on 16 minutes.
Michael Brown sent a header harmlessly wide from another McCormack free kick, but City were able to deal comfortably with everything Leeds threw at them, much to the frustration of Whites boss Neil Warnock, who cut an animated figure on the touchline.
With Kilkenny restored to the team and pulling the strings in the centre of midfield, City enjoyed plenty of possession without quite mustering the guile required to engineer clear-cut chances in the final third.
But then, Leeds were no better and the contest degenerated into a featureless stalemate as two well-organised defences held sway.
City’s only chance of note fell to Liam Kelly, who shot wide after being sent-up by Ryan Taylor.
At the other end, Diouf’s wayward effort from range was greeted with ironic cheers from disgruntled home fans.City looked well-organised and it was 42 minutes before Tom Heaton was called into meaningful action, the keeper dropping to his tight to gather a low drive from McCormack.
Stung into a response, Kilkenny teed-up Richard Foster, whose fierce shot was parried by Paddy Kenny.
No doubt awakened from their slumbers by the half-time promptings of their manager, Leeds emerged with greater purpose, only to be confronted by opponents who refused to yield.
City continued to defend with two banks of four and make life difficult for a Leeds side that had only a Lees header straight at Heaton to show for their efforts in the opening 15 minutes of the second period.
City had opportunities to counter-attack and Paul Anderson was narrowly off-target with a shot from range, while keeper Kenny made a diving save to deny Stephen Pearson.
But City’s hopes of keeping a first clean sheet this season were scuppered in the 66th minute.
Ross Barkley swung over a cross from the right and McCormack climbed above Foster to direct a firm header past Heaton at the far post.
Robins boss O’Driscoll responded by taking off the tiring Kilkenny, introducing Wes Burns on the right flank and moving Kelly to the centre of midfield in a bid to rescue the game.
Strikers Jon Stead and Steven Davies also entered the fray, but to no avail as Leeds held on without any major scares.
Leeds (4-4-2): Kenny; Byram, Peltier, Lees, White; Diouf, Brown, Austin, Barkley (Green 82); McCormack (Tonge 90), Becchio.
City (4-4-1-1): Heaton; Foster, Carey, Fontaine, Cunningham; Kelly, Skuse, Kilkenny (Burns 72), Pearson (Davies 78 mins); Anderson (Stead 65); Taylor.
Referee: Darren Sheldrake (Surrey)