Leeds United Stories, Vol. 1
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fleetwood town 2-2 leeds united: start soon

fleetwood town 2-2 leeds united: start soon

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Pablo Hernandez looks good. The blue away kit looks good. Pablo Hernandez in the blue away kit looks good, so let’s not look too far past that, if we can help it.

Apart from, perhaps, the occasional glance at Kemar Roofe, who showed flashes of danger and one post-whistling flash of invention, a nimble turn and threatening shot, in particular.

We can also talk about Marcus Antonsson, who scored an equaliser that wasn’t only necessary to win the game, but to save the season, if only for twenty minutes. Is that too melodramatic? Imagine if he hadn’t. Alex Mowatt was on the pitch by then too, for the first time this season, and perhaps it’s not a coincidence that Fleetwood were finally faced by the Championship side they’d been promised when those two arrived on the pitch.

That’s hard to judge. The second half performance was better from Leeds, but perhaps not because of any tactical changes or personnel changes, but because it had to be. After an insipid first half, in which they conceded another poxy early goal, Leeds grit their teeth and set about setting a higher standard in the second. That standard still only represented a minimum at best, but after 135 minutes of the season, it was a relief to finally reach that level.

Pablo Hernandez, throughout, was on a level of his own. Internationally cleared to take up the no.10 position that swallowed Matt Grimes like an interstellar black hole on Sunday, Hernandez used his debut to play as a no.10 and then as everything, all at one, popping up all over the pitch and playing passes and through balls of such searing intelligence they inevitably outpaced his new teammates.

It was exactly the performance I wanted to see straight away from Hernandez; quality and entertaining. One touch, shortly before the equaliser, took a looping ball out of the air on his instep before he twisted inside his marker. Leeds United players don’t do that with the ball; except for Jordan Botaka, who on the evidence of this game, is being incredibly harshly done to if Hadi Sacko is his long-term replacement.

Hernandez did fluff things now and then; it was his debut, and he’s apparently human. One chance to finish at the back post, after good work by Mowatt, stands out. But even then, Hernandez chased the ball down and set up a new opportunity, dinking a cross for another Leeds player to try for, and that effort and mental and physical agility stood out too.

We can only hope that the players around Hernandez can catch him up soon. Marcus Antonsson leads the way. His running was already putting Chris Wood’s lumbering to shame before, with just minutes left, Antonsson span 180 degrees on loose ball in the Fleetwood area and lashed it into the net. Wood got a goal early in extra time, to make the game about as safe as it could be, and at least as safe as it ought to have been, by tucking away a penalty; he made sure to offer thanks to Antonsson as he celebrated, as it was Antonsson’s swift running across the defenders that had drawn a foul Wood’s play would never have.

It didn’t make the game safe enough. Leeds lulled themselves into a false sense of security and let Fleetwood have the better of the rest of extra-time until they equalised and threw the acceptable-start of-the-season question back onto the damp seaside pitch.

Penalties answer nothing. I wrote above about Antonsson saving the season, and Leeds achieving a minimum standard, and a score draw after extra-time with a League One team was a minimum result that at least saved Leeds from an outright revolt after two games. The succession of smartly scored penalty kicks, by both teams, didn’t do anything to alter that; nor did Leeds’ qualification thanks to a miss from a player that looked certain to miss from the moment he stepped up.

Robert Green — the hero — and his teammates celebrated with vigour, but what they were celebrating, I’m not sure. Whether there will be anything more to celebrate on Saturday, I’m even less sure about. But I’m certain it depends on Hernandez. It might depend on Roofe, Mowatt and Antonsson, too. And it definitely depends on Garry Monk, who needs to recalibrate Leeds United’s standards and move us on from saving our season, to starting it.

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