Whichever way you look at it – and there are a few differing options – Leeds United‘s season has started rather worryingly. A lack of truly meaningful match practice pre-season, combined with the loss of midfield starlet Lewis Cook, saw the Whites starting the campaign with huge question marks looming over their prospects for success.
True, some real promise has been recruited, in particular the exciting potential of former Oxford hotshot Kemar Roofe. But the sale of Cook to AFC Bournemouth leaves a gap that has not yet been filled. In defence, too, things look less than settled. Kyle Bartley has been recruited from manager Garry Monk’s old club Swansea, but Sol Bamba remains club captain despite some deeply ordinary form. And another young star in left-back Charlie Taylor has apparently expressed a desire to leave. It’s really difficult to describe the net effect of Leeds’ transfer business (so far) as positive.
And then, when the talking had to stop and the football began for real, came a performance at QPR in the season opener that was by turns pallid and chaotic. Comical defending cost United a goal after just four minutes, and it was largely downhill from there. By the time Tjaronn Chery cracked home the Rangers clincher from an acute angle in the closing stages, Leeds were a very well-beaten team.
On the optimistic side, all three of the Championship’s supposed big guns lost away from home on that opening day. Newcastle and Aston Villa joined Leeds in defeat, and likewise failed to trouble the scorers. But the Toon and the Villans were both edged out only 0-1; a rather better showing than United’s 0-3 tonking at Loftus Road.
Still, as things stand, we’ve only lost once all season and we’re just three points off the top. In spite of what the readers of this blog might think from some of the stuff I write, it is important to take a glass half-full view as a Leeds fan, knowing as we do that only relentless optimism is likely to save us from despair. And, still looking on that bright side, even after losing first time up – perhaps we could now make early progress in the EFL Cup on Wednesday at Fleetwood, and banish the memories of the thrashing QPR had handed out. That would be quite sweet, actually, particularly as ALL of Yorkshire’s other sides had surrendered meekly the night before, going out of the Cup along with several high-profile Championship casualties.
In the event, Leeds did manage to progress as Yorkshire’s sole representatives. It has to be said, though, they were more than a little fortunate against a Fleetwood side that was a goal to the good early on, and held that advantage until the last minute of normal time. But then new signing Marcus Antonsson, a Swedish striker of whom much is expected, produced a brilliant turn and shot to level for Leeds at the last gasp. And it was substitute Antonsson who was then fouled in the box early in extra time to give the hitherto ineffective Chris Wood the chance to make it 2-1 from the spot. It remained only for Leeds to chuck away their hard-won advantage in typical fashion, allowing time and room for Fleetwood to fashion an equaliser – and we were facing the dreaded penalty shoot-out.
So it came to pass that veteran ‘keeper Rob Green, at fault for the first goal against QPR the previous weekend, went from zero to become the campaign’s first Leeds hero. After United had scored all of their penalties, Green produced a smart save off Fleetwood’s fifth and final spot kick – and Leeds were narrowly, edgily, through to the second round. Pride of Yorkshire? Most definitely!
Now we will meet Luton Town of League Two, 3-1 conquerors of once-mighty Aston Villa, at Kenilworth Road in Round Two. It’s a tie that will quite likely be televised and a very definite potential banana skin for Yorkshire’s most famous club. But if Leeds can negotiate that hurdle, and perhaps pick up a bit over the next few Championship matches, it may well be that we’ll look back on that Rob Green penalty shoot-out save and realise it was an early-season turning point.
Things can only get better, so they say. It’s a dangerous line to take where Leeds are concerned; they always seem to find new depths to plumb. But you never know. Maybe, after a slow start, and with a few more quality signings, we can pick up and embark on a successful season of real achievement. Maybe, even, we’ll beat the Blues tomorrow. Stranger things have happened, after all. Just ask Leicester City…