leeds united 3-0 preston north end: front footBack
Everything at Leeds is much more fun when Simon Grayson and Glynn Snodin are around, and their annual visit didn’t disappoint.
They brought Jermaine Beckford with them, wore the yellow away kit Garry Monk won’t let us wear, and gave us three more points and some welcome feelings of good cheer. Beckford in particular was on his best Elland Road behaviour, signing autographs in the Family Stand when he should have been warming up at half-time and, when he came on as substitute, missing an easy looking chance from close range in very Beckford-versus-Leeds circumstances. If Larry and Snods can’t manage us, and Beckford can’t play for us, I’d happily play their team every week.
I’ll stick to watching Leeds United, though, firstly because I think that particular ship has long since left the shore, secondly because, if they keep playing like they did against Preston North End, it’ll be as much fun as Grayson’s teams ever were.
After a few weeks of frustration with him, I wasn’t disappointed to hear that Liam Bridcutt was injured and not taking part in this game. Ronaldo Vieira and Kalvin Phillips have their faults, and their youth often means naivety, as we saw when Newcastle United came to Elland Road in November. But against Preston they controlled midfield and, crucially, they controlled it on the front foot.
It might be a symptom of the responsibility Bridcutt is asked to take at Leeds, always playing against the strongest teams in the division, with a focus on security, but his favoured position of just in front of Robert Green has felt counter productive in recent weeks — and it didn’t do us much good against Brentford. Here Phillips and Vieira were noticeably further forward and, noticeably, playing many more forward passes.
A forward ball from Vieira to Kemar Roofe was the catalyst for United’s opening goal; Roofe was central, and played a nifty one-two with Chris Wood before just about finishing, the ball taking a heavy deflection off a defender and bouncing slowly, brilliantly, over the line. The third goal came from a forward pass from Phillips that our old defender Paul Huntington missed, letting substitute Souleymane Doukara in for his second one-on-one. He’d missed the first, dragging it wide of the back post; this time he whacked inside the front post.
Between those efforts the game had a lot to do with Roofe and Pablo Hernandez. One reason why it’s not possible to say that Bridcutt’s absence was the cause of United’s forward thinking is that, if Bridcutt had been playing, surely he wouldn’t have been able to resist getting involved with what Roofe was doing in attack.
It’s only one game, but Roofe didn’t just play well, he solved problems that meant others played well, too. Hernadez has been under par lately but against Preston he was brilliant, getting a clever touch on Roofe’s volleyed through ball to beat the keeper and score Leeds’ second, and generally looking happier than he has for a while. Apart from when Alex Baptiste kicked him and got sent off, that is, although Baptiste managed to do whatever he did without a single camera picking it up, so will avoid a Cooper like ban.
Hernandez’s happiness was helped by Roofe, who was nominally a winger, but brought much more to the game. When Hernandez went wide, Roofe would go to play as a no.10; when Luke Ayling pushed forward down the right, Roofe would go and play next to Wood. Bless Hadi Sacko, who has tried his heart out all season, but he’s a winger and that’s that; if he’s not on the touchline, he’s nothing. Roofe’s problem has looked to be the reverse, that out on the wing he’s struggled to contribute, but if this is the solution, it’s brilliant; start him on the wing, but let him go where he’s dangerous.
Alfonso Pedraza should be mentioned too, and nearly had a couple of assists from runs and passes through the middle of the pitch; the first, Roofe couldn’t control, the second Wood scored, but a tap from Roofe had sent him just offside. Leeds could have scored eight in this game, and even better, they could have scored them from open play.
And so they should. There were some nervy defensive moments, including two vital saves from Green, one in particular from a point-blank header in the opening minutes, but the current back four has a song for a reason. Pontus Jansson and Kyle Bartley can deal with most things, and don’t really need two midfielders covering them. It’s been a conundrum of the season; to have Wood, Hernandez, Roofe, Sacko, Dallas, Doukara, Antonsson, Pedraza and Barrow all at the club, and to start writing the teamsheet by asking who will protect Pontus.
We don’t need a return to the days when 6-4 scorelines were nothing unusual — hi, Larry — but we don’t have Alex Bruce and Neill Collins in defence anymore. With forward thinking attackers, and fully committed defenders, we get three goals and they get none.
We also got our fourteenth home win of the season; we only won fifteen at home in the two previous seasons put together. Whatever we’ve been doing this season, we’ve doing it right. Another satisfactory aspect of this match, though, were signs of doing it better. Roofe has flirted with becoming an expensive mistake, but then the jump from League Two was always going to be difficult; this was a reassuring performance.
Phillips and Vieira, too, have had their raw moments — and their scapegoat moments, in Phillips case. If Bridcutt is fit by Friday then one (or both, knowing Monk) will probably lose their place for the trip to St James’ Park, which given what happened at Elland Road, is probably sensible. But I’d like to see Monk gamble a little and leave them in, and let’s see what they’ve learned in the months since then.
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