Marcelo Bielsa has done an amazing job at Leeds – Stoke boss Michael O’Neill
“They’re the best team we’ve played,” said O’Neill.
Stoke boss Michael O’Neill paid tribute to Leeds and their manager Marcelo Bielsa after his side were out-classed 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 to crank up the pressure.
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 typically 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 per cent with the previous result.”
When asked if he was able to enjoy the closing stages after his side had assured themselves of victory, the Argentinian said: “It’s not exactly the word (that) I enjoyed it.
“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 needless 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 very important,” Bielsa added.
“In the second half our early goal made it much easier for us, but in any case it was an exaggerated result.”