Leeds United 4, Port Vale 1 (Carabao Cup 1st Round)
Elland Road on Wednesday night had that air of a football stadium being dragged at long last into the 21st century – not kicking and screaming, but purring with a deeply fulfilled sense of gratified satisfaction. The old stadium had that slick, modern look about it, with the state-of-the-art electronic advertising hoardings proclaiming that a new era is underway in LS11. But it was the vibrant, fluid attacking play of Leeds United, resplendent in their all-white strip with its gold trim, which really announced that things are different now – even though the team showed nine changes from that impressive opening day win at Bolton.
From the start, the Thomas Christiansen style of play was again in evidence, with the players looking to pass it around efficiently, finding space and supporting possession, and with a creditable amount of sheer hard work going into harrying the opposition when they had the ball. If Leeds can build on this approach, then we could be in for a highly enjoyable season. The work ethic and the obvious comfort on the ball of the Leeds players both bode well for United’s prospects, and the 15,000 plus crowd had many a chance to express their approval.
Samu Sáiz was the obvious star of the show, with a very well-taken hat-trick – and his immediate priority must now be to keep his feet on the ground, continue to work hard, and maintain the standard he has set for himself. The only small nits to pick were a slight tendency to wave imaginary yellow cards, together with a suggestion that he may have been involved in a spitting incident towards the end of the first half. But otherwise, the impression Sáiz made on his competitive debut could hardly have been greater; by scoring a hat-trick on his first team bow, he has potentially catapulted himself into the Carl Shutt class of United legends. Praise indeed.
Let’s not overlook other impressive performances though. After the distressing concession of a penalty at Bolton, when he appeared to be attempting to swap shirts with his opponent about half an hour early, Conor Shaughnessy looked classy and composed in the sometimes intimidating Elland Road arena. It seems important to make that point, as there is a tendency among United fans to dismiss young players as “not good enough” after errors like the one at Bolton. But Shaughnessy showed character and application, hardly putting a foot wrong all night. Decidedly, he looks to have every chance of being good enough.
Overall, it was an extremely satisfactory night for Leeds, with that buzz of new beginnings around a stadium that is looking better every day – emphasising that home is once again truly our home. At this early stage of the season, we already have a lot to be thankful for and, seemingly, plenty more to look forward to. Not to overplay a First Round League Cup win over fourth-tier Port Vale – but you can only beat what’s put in front of you, and the fact is that Leeds despatched their opponents with considerable style.
Quite apart from the Sáiz hat-trick, there was also a debut goal for Caleb Ekuban, who finished decisively after a step-over by that man Samu. By this time, the first half leveller scored by Vale’s ex-United man Tongeh was but a distant memory. Leeds had won at a canter, and they’d put on a better show than for many a long month past in so doing. The three terrific strikes from the right boot of Sáiz will be remembered for a long time to come – although Leeds fans, being Leeds fans, will be hungry for more.
On the sparkling evidence of Wednesday night, those fans are unlikely to be disappointed.