Leeds United 3 Cardiff City 3

LEEDS United fans will be hoping that bad old habits are not going to see a repeat of last season’s Championship collapse as the Whites head into the crucial Christmas and New Year fixtures.

Head coach Marcelo Bielsa was baffled as his side threw away a three-goal lead to draw 3-3 against Cardiff City at Elland Road on Saturday.

Despite playing some of their best attacking football of the season, Leeds allowed the ten-man Bluebirds to steal a point with late goals which denied United’s return to the top of the table.

With games at Fulham on Saturday, home to Preston on Boxing Day, a trip to Birmingham City on Saturday, January 29, followed by the New Year’s Day visit to leaders West Brom, Leeds’ mental strength will be tested.

They choked at the end of last season but with a ten-point promotion cushion this time Bielsa will be hoping the last knockings of the Cardiff game is just a blip with no need to panic.

When Patrick Bamford fired in a 52nd-minute penalty, generously given by referee Tony Harrington after the striker went down under a challenge by goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, Leeds went 3-0 up looking stone-cold certainties to extend their winning run to eight games.

The visitors were being run off their feet by rampant Leeds but clawed their way back into the game when Kiko Casilla made a mess of an aerial clearance and Lee Tomlin expertly lobbed the ball into the net.

That did not immediately change the pattern of the game as Leeds still powered forward, getting round the back of the Cardiff defence at will without finding a finish.

However, when Sean Morrison reduced the arrears further with a header on 82 minutes, Bielsa opted to throw on rookie Pascal Struijk in place of the more experienced Gaetano Beradi to give more height to the home backline.

When Morrison was red-carded moments later for scything down Bamford’s replacement Eddie Nketiah, United only had to see out the game. But, just like the damaging hone defeat against Wigan they could not do it against ten men.

Two minutes of normal time remained when 20-year-old Struijk was caught flat-footed and 6ft 4in German striker Robert Glatzel knocked in the most unlikely of equalisers.

Even then Leeds could have won it four minutes into stoppage time when Nketiah had a header saved by Etheridge before Ben White hit the rebound wide from close range.

The finale was in stark contrast to Leeds’ turbo-charged start as they stormed into a 2-0 lead inside eight minutes. Helder Costa tore on to Pablo Hernandez’s sublime pass to fire in the opener then Bamford doubled the lead by bringing down Stuart Dallas’ cross and lashing home.

Typically, Bielsa blamed himself rather than his players for failing to take maximum points.

“I did not get the preparation right because I knew about Cardiff City’s strengths and we didn’t resolve it,” he said.

“We knew how dangerous they are in the air and from set-pieces. Set pieces are crucial in this division and Cardiff made us pay in that area today.

“Some of our attacking play was the best I have seen from Leeds and it is difficult to explain the result.

“I don't look back on the subs and think I got it wrong. I felt that we were defending OK and even at 3-2 the team was calm. Defensively we were not that bad, but they have exploited us for the third goal.”

City boss Neil Harris hailed his side’s great escape but acknowledged United’s superiority.

“Leeds are a great side, the energy they have, the ability they have and the forward runs they have make them a great side,” he said.

“They are as one of the best sides I have seen in the Championship in years. They were better than us, but we gave them a leg up, we gave poor goals away and their penalty was debatable.”

Leeds United: Casilla, Ayling, White, Beradi (Struijk 84), Dallas, Phillips, Hernandez, Klich, Harrison (Alioski 80), Costa, Bamford (Nketiah 77). Subs (not used): Miazek, Douglas, Gotts, Clarke. Caution: Hernandez

Cardiff City: Etheridge, Peltier, Morrison, Flint (Nelson 40), Bennett, Vaulks (Whyte 61), Pack, Ralls, Mendez-Laing, Ward (Glatzel 73). Subs (not used): Bacuna, Murphy, Smithies, PatersonSent off: Morrison. Caution: Tomlin

Ref: Tony Harrington Att: 34,552