EVEN if Leeds United don’t get promotion to the Premier League this season, the future looks much brighter for the club than for many years.

They needed a controversial penalty at Elland Road to beat QPR 2-1 but a late winner for Norwich City against Bolton Wanderers meant the Whites remained in second spot in the Championship with a five-point cushion over third place.

The victory, a fourth on the bounce, has seen Leeds negotiate a difficult period in which they have been ravaged by injuries to defenders.

Head coach Marcelo Bielsa has not been afraid to turn to youth during this spell with Aapo Halme, Jack Clarke, Will Huffer and now Jamie Shackleton all making positive contributions during the recent good run of results.

Shackleton, 19, was handed a home Championship debut against Rangers and gave a vibrant display as an attacking right-back. He was particularly eye-catching in the opening 25 minutes when United swarmed all over the West London side and should have been a couple of goals to the good.

Rangers grabbed the lead against the run of play when centre-backs Kalvin Phillips and Pontus Jansson failed to deal with a high ball forward leaving the persistent Nahki Wells to finish in style.

Leeds lost their composure and momentum for a while but crucially levelled on the cusp of half-time when Kemar Roofe, who came close during United’s early dominance, neatly flicked in Pablo Hernandez’s pass-cum-shot.

Leeds resumed on the front foot and were rewarded on 53 minutes when referee Peter Bankes adjudged Toni Leistner had handled a ball over the top. Roofe stepped up to confidently dispatch the first Leeds spot-kick awarded in 58 games.

QPR’s York-born manager Steve McClaren was unhappy with the official.

“It was a poor decision for the penalty, a very, very poor decision,” he said. “It’s cost us a result. Toni was adamant it didn't touch his hand.”

Leeds surrendered opportunities to build a two-goal lead and the Hoops sent on the aerial threat of big Matt Smith to push for an equaliser but Leeds held on in the driving rain for three priceless points.

Despite opening a gap on the chasing pack, Bielsa insisted the Championship is still wide open.

“We go game by game and try to get the best we can from each game. Sometimes we get more than we deserve, sometimes we get less. This is football and that’s why it’s attractive,” said the Argentinian.

“This year there is no team who have shown that they can dominate the rest of the teams.”

While Bielsa continues to play down United’s promotion chances, opposite number McClaren is convinced the Elland Road club have the staying power.

“There is big pressure and expectation and they’ve got a manager with the experience to handle that,” he said.

“I think they won ugly today and that’s what you need to do when you’re going for promotion. You’re starting to see six, seven, eight teams coming through - Aston Villa being one of them and I expect Stoke to as well.

“There’s a lot of big clubs and only three can go up. There will be a lot of disappointed clubs with big expectations that won’t make it. But Leeds are going to be up there, without a shadow of a doubt.”

Leeds next head to Bolton where in the absence of injured Luke Ayling, Gaetano Beradi and Stuart Dallas, Shackleton can expect another football tutorial from the professorial Bielsa.

Leeds United: Peacock-Farrell, Shackleton, Douglas, Jansson, Phillips, Forshaw, Klich, Alioski, Hernandez (Clarke 85), Saiz (Halme 81), Roofe. Subs (not used): Huffer, Halme, Davis, Baker, Harrison, Bamford. Cautions: Phillips, Klich

QPR: Lumley, Rangel, Leistner, Lynch, Bidwell, Wszolek (Osayi-Samuel 72), Cameron (Scowen HT), Luongo, Freeman, Eze (Smith 78), Wells. Subs (not used): Ingram, Furlong, Cousins, Hemed. Cautions: Scowen, Leistner, Angel, Lynch

Ref: Peter Bankes. Att: 33,781