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leeds united 2 – 1 accrington stanley: who are we?

leeds united 2 – 1 accrington stanley: who are we?

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I’m not sure the League Cup’s first round is really helpful to anybody at this stage of the season.

A game against Accrington Stanley in a cup we won’t win was the last thing anybody really wanted this week. With the league season properly underway against Millwall at the weekend, it felt like the whole thing was being put on pause again to return, for ninety minutes, to pre-season. And not only because Stuart Taylor made what will surely be a very rare appearance in the Leeds United goal.

The pre-season feel carried through from the line-up to the end of the game, when a win for Leeds United, had about it the same feeling that followed the win over Dundee United; that feeling that you haven’t quite had the full story.

If the players do have more to tell us, they at least filled us in on a few points against Stanley. Souleymane Doukara certainly shouted louder than he did against Dundee, when he had already turned up the volume from his first pre-season appearances; he keeps getting better, although so far he’s saving his best for our lesser opposition.

I have to hold my hands up and admit at this point that after the Dundee game I said on The Square Ball podcast that Doukara, while he looked difficult to deal with, didn’t really look like he’d ever score a goal for Leeds United.

Do two goals really prove me wrong? Well, yeah. I might have got away with it for the first – a snapshot in the box that was hit far from cleanly but still scuffed its way into the bottom corner – but his second was too lovely to resist. Doukara flicked a firmly pinged through ball from Cook from his right foot, which he’d used to score his first, to his left, which he used this time to loft the ball into the upper reaches of the net.

This was neat stuff, and if Doukara really does have finishing to talk about as well as presence, he could do well at Leeds. He’ll need to cut the diving out, though, which was some of the worst I’ve ever seen; not from a moral point of view, but from one of quality: he’s really bad at it.

It would have been nice to add to the goals, but as has been characteristic of United in pre-season and at Millwall, there wasn’t much incisiveness on offer. When Lewis Cook is capable of setting Doukara away with a single, forceful, forward pass, it’s frustrating to see how often Leeds play the ball square. Tommaso Bianchi can clearly nurse possession, but he needs to learn that Pearce and Wootton aren’t the targets to hit if Leeds are to play progressive football.

This may be down to the diamond more than the players; without wingers, the sameyness of our midfield really becomes apparent when players like Bianchi and Tonge are in such close proximity. Charlie Taylor offered an outlet from left back, and also offered some serious and good crosses towards Matt Smith from what was effectively the left wing, but Gaetano Berardi, taking over from Byram from the night, couldn’t replicate that on the right.

He also couldn’t stay on the pitch. I don’t know what to call his sending off – a tackle? No… a challenge? No… whatever it was, it happened right in front of me, and it was so extreme that I didn’t even notice it. I was dimly aware that Berardi had gone up in the air with his legs kicking like a seven year old being carried to bed, but he’d been tackling a bit like that all night; the only surprise was that this time he’d connected with his opponent. As debuts go, I’ll take Bianchi, and hope we keep Byram beyond the Beard’s suspension.

The other debutant, Zan Benedicic, falls somewhere in between. On for the last 25 minutes in place of Cook, he’s taller than you’d expect for a ball-playing midfielder, and as green as you’d expect an eighteen year old playing the first professional competitive game of his life, in a foreign country, to be. He played some decent passes, but his presence also helped allow Accrington to take control of the later stages of the game, putting safe passage to the second round at risk, and risking the embarrassing banana-skin headlines we’d feared before the game.

A red card and a late goal might have been the ingredients this game needed to keep it real, but I’d much rather have taken something unreal and brilliant at this stage of the season. The post-game talk was of Giuseppe Bellusci’s transfer, Liam Cooper’s medical and a surprise move for the striker Cellino had previously claimed to have no interest in, Billy Sharp; or, in other words, the post-game talk was of a sudden rush to plug all the gaps that had become apparent in the first league game against Millwall. A rush and a push and a full squad can be ours, even if time is ticking quickly into the new season’s fixtures already. Better late than never, maybe.

But the unreality of beating League Two opposition when you’ve already lost to a peer isn’t helpful. I’ll cop to a misjudgement where Doukara is concerned, but we can’t truly make any confident pronouncements about his ability until he’s shown his stuff against Middlesbrough, Brighton and the rest in the coming weeks. And that applies to everybody, from the new players to the new coaches and on up to the new president.

If this 2–1 win had been toughed out against a team at our level in mid-season I’d have left Elland Road a happy bunny. As it is, I left Elland Road wearing the same anxious expression I saw on many of the faces around me in the Lowfields Tunnel; the expression that, in spite of pleasure at the win, showed recognition of the same truth: this was only Accrington Stanley, and it wasn’t easy.

The milk adverts will always haunt Accrington – “Who are they?” – but it’s Leeds United’s question to answer at the moment. The season really gets underway against Middlesbrough on Saturday – the first real home game of the season – and you’ll hear that a lot as fans point at some mysterious new player in a white shirt and run their finger down the programme’s squad list: “Who are they?”

Middlesbrough are followed quickly at Elland Road by Brighton, and then we’ll be three games in to the league campaign and there’s no turning back. Let’s hope for some more answers like Doukara’s when things get real.

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