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We're a far way off where Leeds are, insists O'Neill

Leeds United 5 Stoke City 0

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Hands up: Michael O’Neill admitted Stoke were miles off

Hands up: Michael O’Neill admitted Stoke were miles off

Hands up: Michael O’Neill admitted Stoke were miles off

Stoke boss Michael O'Neill paid tribute to Leeds and their manager Marcelo Bielsa after his side were outclassed in a 5-0 defeat at Elland Road.

Leeds swept back to the top of the Sky Bet Championship in style as Mateusz Klich's first-half penalty and further goals from Helder Costa, Liam Cooper, Pablo Hernandez and Patrick Bamford completed the rout.

"I'd be very surprised if they don't go up," said former Northern Ireland manager O'Neill. "They're the best team we've played. We couldn't deal with them physically.

"(Bielsa) has done an amazing job. Two years of work here and you can see that in the team.

"They're hungry players. That's key, and we are a long, long way from where they are. It will take time to change that."

Leeds need seven more points from their remaining four matches to guarantee automatic promotion.

It was an emphatic response from Bielsa's side, who had seen promotion rivals West Brom, Brentford and Fulham all win earlier in the week.

O'Neill added: "Tonight you saw the difference between a team at the top and one which for two seasons has been at the bottom end of the table, a long way off where they need to be.

"We gave a decent account in the first half, but you can't give them a leg up, which we did with the penalty. Once behind, it was always tough."

Bielsa played down the effect Leeds' convincing win could have on the race for a top-two finish.

"Every match is a new story," Bielsa said. "What happened in the previous game is not definitive for the next one. Safety and confidence are not linked 100% with the previous result."

When asked if he was able to enjoy the closing stages, the Argentinian said: "It was a positive performance. The manager always values a positive impact."

Stoke offered stubborn resistance until Klich converted a 45th-minute penalty following Tommy Smith's foul on Costa.

Costa and skipper Cooper both struck within 10 minutes of the restart before Hernandez lashed home a brilliant fourth goal and Bamford added a fifth with low angled finish.

"Being able to score at the end of the first half was important," Bielsa added. "In the second half our early goal made it easier."

Belfast Telegraph