Mark Perrow reports from Elland Road
Sean O’Driscoll’s first game in charge ended in defeat for City by a solitary goal at Elland Road.
Despite matching their hosts throughout, and even dominating spells of the first half, the Robins struggled to create chances and were ultimately undone by Ross McCormack’s 66th minute winner.
City’s improved organisation was clear to see, but, particularly after falling behind, the visitors hardly troubled Paddy Kenny in the Leeds goal.
The new head coach at Ashton Gate made an early statement of intent by making five changes to Derek McInnes’ last game in charge against Leicester City at Ashton Gate.
Tom Heaton was recalled in goal, while Louis Carey, Neil Kilkenny, Paul Anderson and Ryan Taylor all returned to starting duties.
The expiry of his loan deal from Middlesbrough ensured Stephen McManus would not be involved, while Matthew Bates missed out with illness.
Dropped to the bench were Dean Gerken, James Wilson, Steven Davies and Jon Stead, while Sam Baldock continues to be troubled by a calf strain and again missed out on a place in the squad altogether.
An early City free kick forced the first scare for either side, as Liam Fontaine looked like forcing a way through before the ball was smuggled to safety, while at the other end Liam Kelly and Kilkenny both found themselves in the book inside ten minutes.
Greg Cunningham was lucky to avoid the same fate soon after, clearly tripping Rodolph Austin in full flight right under the nose of Leeds boss Neil Warnock, who was typically honest in letting referee Darren Sheldrake know exactly what he thought.
City had not quite settled, and, despite keeping the hosts at arm’s length, were struggling to force the issue in an attacking sense.
McCormack floated a free kick comfortably wide and El-Hadji Diouf’s dangerous cross was headed goalwards by debutant Ross Barkley but without the necessary purchase to trouble Heaton.
But on 20 minutes City demonstrated a first real statement of intent with an easy on the eye passing move within 40 yards of goal. In the end a high ball eluded Anderson, but suddenly O’Driscoll’s approach was visible.
It was not the last time before the break either. By now City were the better team, patiently probing in midfield and only a killer pass short of creating chances.
But for all their possession, City’s first attempt at goal ironically arrived from a set-piece, as Richard Foster’s throw-in was intelligently held up by Taylor and laid back to the onrushing Kelly, whose first-time shot just eluded the near post.
At the other end, a rare Leeds foray saw Diouf play a neat one-two before firing wildly over the top and bringing ironic cheers from a home crowd clearly disillusioned by their side’s display.
When McCormack cut inside and tested Heaton down by his near post from 20 yards, the cheers grew louder. Leeds were still far from impressive, but did seem to be evolving as an attacking force.
However, with the clock ticking towards half-time, some good composure from Anderson inside the penalty area presented an opening for Foster, who struck his shot sweetly on his left foot but straight down the throat of Kenny who beat the ball away. A couple of feet either side and City were in front.
There was still time for Heaton to make a meal of Barkley’s low cross before pouncing on the loose ball, which was not enough to spare the home side from a chorus of boos from their own fans at the interval.
If O’Driscoll asked for more of the same at half-time, that was exactly what he got straight after the restart, as another incisive move threatened the opener.
A clever pass inside the full-back set up Foster to cross first time along the six-yard line towards Taylor, only for Sam Byram to slide in and force an excellent reaction save from his own keeper Kenny, who diverted the ball behind for a corner.
It was a wake-up call which did, temporarily at least, spark Leeds into life. Austin’s driven shot hit Carey and ran away for a corner, before central defender Tom Lees planted the ensuing delivery straight into the hands of Heaton.
O’Driscoll was forced into his first City substitution on 65 minutes when Jon Stead replaced the hobbling Anderson, but within a matter of seconds his side were behind as McCormack rose above Foster to convert Barkley’s cross with a smart header back across Heaton.
It was harsh on City, who had more than matched their play-off chasing hosts throughout.
The next move of the head coach was to unleash more attacking options from the bench in the shape of Wes Burns and Davies, but now Leeds had to a lead to protect, and were scarcely troubled.
Austin’s daisycutter across goal threatened to put the result to bed, but the damage had already been done, and, but for a couple of late corners, the hosts held on quite comfortably to inflict a first defeat on the new regime.