A MAX Gradel double secured back to back defeats for Queens Park Rangers as Leeds United march into the automatic promotion places.
The lively winger gave the Whites the lead shortly before the half hour mark as he latched onto Luciano Becchio’s pin-point knock-down.
Rangers were looking second best in truth with influential talents such as Adel Taarabt unable to get a foothold in the encounter.
On a bitterly cold afternoon the vast majority of a near 30,000 crowd has more reason to cheer. Gradel weaving his way through a static defence to slam past Paddy Kenny.
From then on matters seemed a formality as a weary QPR side struggled to keep pace with the resurgent hosts – with no real stand out performer for the table-toppers.
Leeds now move into second, three points behind leaders Rangers, while Swansea City were unable to capitalise on a second successive defeat.
Neil Warnock made two changes from the televised defeat against Watford with Alejandro Faurlín and Heidar Helguson dropping out for Rob Hulse and Bradley Orr.
Paddy Kenny lined up behind a back four of Orr, Kaspars Gorkss, Matt Connolly and Clint Hill – Kyle Walker pushing into midfield to partner Shaun Derry.
Jamie Mackie, Adel Taarabt and Tommy Smith lined up behind the returning forward Hulse – a former Leeds United striker himself.
Leeds lined up with Kasper Schmeichel behind a defence of Paul Connolly, Alex Bruce, Neil Collins and George McCartney with Bradley Johnson, Neil Kilkenny and skipper Jonny Howson in the middle.
Luciano Becchio was the lone forward being supported by Max Gradel and Robert Snodgrass in a 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation.
Kick Off: Leeds United v Queens Park Rangers
It was sub-zero temperatures in Yorkshire as Leeds and QPR took to the Elland Road pitch. Evidently the ground staff had put in an incredible effort to get the game on and help the hosts continue their fine run of form.
There were some hearty souls that made the journey up from West London, treacherous conditions on road and rail made for some complex travel arrangements but supporters still turned up in their numbers to cheer on the league leaders.
The visitors started positively and put Leeds on the back foot with former White Rob Hulse winning a lot of the aerial challenges. Indeed his flick-on from a Paddy Kenny long ball fashioned a chance for wide-man Tommy Smith.
The former Portsmouth man got out in front of Schmeichel but his lob was misguided and it dipped onto the roof of the net, to the relief and joy of the home support. Moments later there was another early chance, this time from Hulse himself.
Adel Taarabt sent a free-kick into the heart of the area and the striker leapt highest before sending an effort goal-bound. Schmeichel was more than equal to the effort as he claimed comfortably. Leeds were certainly not second best by any means however.
The Whites were pressing and a cross from Paul Connolly down the right saw Becchio leap highest beyond Matt Connolly and draw a spectacular save from Kenny. The R’s keeper drew on some fantastic reactions to stop the in-form Leeds marksman.
QPR were predominantly featuring on the counter-attack and Jamie Mackie’s clever run brought Taarabt into play. The Moroccan has Smith to his right but opted to let fly from distance, his effort rolled wide of the left-hand upright.
It was clear that the first goal in this keenly-fought encounter would be important and it was the hosts that snatched it shortly before the half hour mark. Robert Snodgrass turned Clint Hill inside out before delivering a deep cross.
Becchio won his header all too easily to knock down to Max Gradel and the lively winger lashed home left footed giving Kenny little chance at his near post. A priceless lead for hosts who by now had the bit between their teeth.
GOAL: Leeds United 1-0 Queens Park Rangers
You would be forgiven for thinking that QPR heads would have gone down, but they came out fighting and nearly drew matters level minutes later. Taarabt’s corners had been relatively poor throughout but this particular one tested the Leeds rearguard.
Mackie showed excellent strength to shield the ball and the ball dropped to Kaspars Gorkss. The defender could only lash the ball with his left-foot and it crashed into the side netting from just outside the six-yard box.
Rangers struggled to get a genuine foot hold on the encounter following the goal and some excellent football nearly saw Gradel net a second. Nice interplay involving Snodgrass and Becchio saw Gradel receive the ball back into the heart of the area, but slid as he shot wide of the left-hand upright.
The half petered out to its conclusion with the Whites fairly much on top, despite having to withdraw defender Alex Bruce with an injury. The visitors would hope that they could break the Leeds resistance after the break, but for the time being the hosts were in front and on top.
Half Time: Leeds United 1-0 Queens Park Rangers
Rangers withdrew Clint Hill at half time with central defender Fitz Hall coming on in his stead. It was a tactical shift that saw Kyle Walker drop in to left back and Matt Connolly push into central midfield. It stirred the side somewhat in the opening stages.
Only a great slice of fortune would keep the scores in favour of Leeds United as a good passing move found Adel Taarabt in front of goal. The Moroccan didn’t need a second invitation firing an effort goal-bound deflecting off the back of a Leeds defender and wide for a corner.
Rangers were looking a little more comfortable on the ball but their play was littered with individual errors and mistakes. The line the defenders held was inviting the pace from wide areas to get in behind and this continuously made itself apparent.
The pace of Gradel, the skill in wide-areas from Snodgrass and the aerial prowess of Becchio was causing a make-shift QPR defence all manner of bother. It was the latter that managed to fashion another meaningful chance.
The Argentinean forward strode away down the left before firing left footed and drawing a stunning save from Kenny. The QPR stopper tipped his effort wide left of the post – it was becoming one way traffic for hosts.
Rangers were becoming the architects of their own downfall with a succession of misplaced passes and while Taarabt’s contribution was waning, the other players around him were seemingly not able to do the simple things that had put them in their lofty position.
It wasn’t long before the domination told and despite starting adequately, Rangers had melted. Max Gradel was able to scythe open the Rangers defence at will with Fitz Hall continuously backing off.
Gradel’s quick feet saw him skip past the defence and slam home at the near post beyond the despairing Kenny. It was just reward for the hosts’ good attacking display and ultimately pulled the rug from beneath the league leaders.
GOAL: Leeds United 2-0 Queens Park Rangers
Rangers were by now down and out and with Rob Hulse and Tommy Smith being replaced by Hogan Ephraim and Leon Clarke, Neil Warnock had decided to give the players on the fringe a run-out at Elland Road.
An injury to Hall saw him thrown up front with Matt Connolly dropping back into defence. The injury-prone defender was in constant consultation with the bench, but in truth the game by now was beyond the forlorn visitors.
Jonny Howson nearly made the score even more comprehensive when he was afforded the time and space to curl an effort goal-bound. It was a tremendous effort that Kenny tipped away to preserve the two goal scoreline.
With that the final whistle was blown and from being a side undefeated, Rangers had suffered back to back defeats. In this instance, as it was last Friday, it was fully justified and Neil Warnock will need to look at this display to stop Rangers slipping off the summit.
Full Time: Leeds United 2-0 Queens Park Rangers
Kasper Schmeichel, Paul Connolly, Alex Bruce (Leigh Bromby 11), Neil Collins, George McCartney, Robert Snodgrass, Neil Kilkenny, Bradley Johnson, Jonny Howson, Max Gradel (Lloyd Sam 75), Luciano Becchio (Billy Paynter 90)
Queens Park Rangers
Paddy Kenny, Bradley Orr, Matt Connolly, Kaspars Gorkss, Clint Hill (Fitz Hall 46), Kyle Walker, Shaun Derry, Tommy Smith (Hogan Ephraim 75), Adel Taarabt, Jamie Mackie, Rob Hulse (Leon Clarke 75).