In the build-up to this closely fought Yorkshire derby, Leeds United's website featured a picture of a fresh-faced Gary Speed together with Simon Grayson, his managerial counterpart on Saturday, in a team photo from 1990. Two decades on, Speed, after over 600 top-flight appearances, is a month into his life as a manager with Sheffield United and after his side's narrow loss, the 41-year-old admitted he was feeling the pain of defeat more intensely now than at any time since those early days as a Leeds player.
He said: "I do feel it more. As a player I could forget about it, it is difficult as a manager. When I first started playing I was like this. Hopefully I can deal with it OK."
That the visitors' defeat was largely self-inflicted must have made it all the harder to take – a lesson in the sheer helplessness of seeing your best-laid plans unravel in a split-second.
Stephen Jordan was the culprit, kicking thin air rather than Ross McCormack's cross-field pass with seven minutes remaining. Robert Snodgrass raced clear down the right and after teasing a crossing opportunity out of Richie De Laet, squared for Bradley Johnson to finish.
"It is the little details, that is the difference from winning and losing and a little detail today is why we lost," said Speed, whose six games have included five 1-0 scorelines, three in his side's favour. "We were well in command in the second half and if anyone was going to win it was us, and then we made a mistake like that. It is down to me to make sure we eradicate those mistakes."
Up to that point, Speed's game plan had worked a treat in a fixture Leeds had not won since 1993 and his own Elland Road era. With five men across midfield – notably Leon Britton excelling in a deep-lying role – Sheffield restricted Leeds to one first-half attempt, a Johnson header that Steve Simonsen turned behind.
Yet with Johnson's goal, the contest caught fire in front of the season's biggest Championship crowd of 33,622. After Snodgrass collected a second yellow for fouling Britton, Sheffield's Jon Ertl headed against the bar. Instead the visitors drew level only on red cards, Jamie Ward punished for going over the top in a tackle on Neil Kilkenny, though no contact was made.
Speed believes that, QPR aside, promotion is "there for the taking". His old team climbed to fifth with this third straight home win and, according to match-winner Johnson, are enjoying a release from the pressure of being the big boys in League One. "It helps that we are not the team to beat, which was what we were last season. We were favourites and that made it hard. But this year there are a lot of big teams in this league. It means we are not everyone's cup final.
"We are not setting targets or anything like that, though if we do get a play-off spot we will be over the moon."
Leeds United 4-4-2: Higgs; Hughes, Bruce, Collins, McCartney; Sam (Snodgrass, 60), Howson, Johnson, Gradel (Kilkenny, 72); Becchio, Somma (McCormack, 76). Substitutes not used: Brown, Naylor, Faye, Watt.
Booked McCartney, Snodgrass, Kilkenny. Sent off Snodgrass.
Sheffield United 4-5-1: Simonsen; Calve (De Laet, 46), Bartley, Nosworthy, Jordan; Cresswell, Montgomery, Britton, Ertl, Quinn (Ward, 59); Evans (Yeates, 81). Substitutes not used: Wright, Bogdanovic, Taylor, Lowton. Sent off Ward.
Man of the match Johnson.
Possession Leeds 50% Sheff United 50%
Shots on target Leeds 2 Sheff United 5
Referee A Taylor (Manchester). Attendance 33,622. Match rating 5/10.Reuse content