It’s 19 years since I was able to attend an opening home game at Elland Road, Leeds. It’s around that time that I moved to London from my Yorkshire home. It’s 38 years since the first time I attended an opening game there. I guess that me and Leeds United go back a long way. I always get back to Elland Road but it’s a long time since I’ve seen a game there in August.
Arriving at the ground, I was greeted by the bizarre sight of Nigel Clough (son of Brian) walking the Derby team from the bus towards the ground having insisted that the coach stopped on Elland Road itself for the players to walk the rest of the way. This brought echoes of the film "The Damned United" which I finally viewed a couple of weeks ago and which tells a very different story from the one which I remember growing up. It’s interesting that Nigel Clough was seeking to emulate something which the film says his Dad learnt from Don Revie many years ago but which several Leeds players including Peter Lorimer (who is one of the few Leeds players to have anything good to say about the film) say never actually happened. History, fiction, memory and incident all get intertwined as we get older but by any standards this is a peculiar twist of events.
There will be few Peter Lorimers on display in the Leeds team today but I’m guessing that Lash allowed himself a wry smile when the Derby fans tried to get the Leeds fans going by singing classics like "If you hate Don Revie, clap your hands" and "Brian Clough’s a footballing genius". Something odd about the tenses in both of those and the fans singing them could probably not have been alive when Clough and Revie were at the helms of today’s two sides.
So two teams haunted by their pasts and on this evidence Derby doing much better at trying to recapture glory days than Leeds. Derby went ahead through a goal from ex-Leeds striker, Rob Hulse. Luciano Becchio levelled things only for the referee and his assistant (who had exceptionally bad days) to give a dubious penalty to Derby which carried the three points out of Yorkshire as it ended the scoring.
So who was on duty for Leeds in Simon Grayson’s extensively re-tooled line up?
Goalkeeper: Kasper Schmeichel. A new signing from Notts County who proved a popular choice which might be surprising given that his dad filled a similar spot for arch-rivals Manchester United. Schmeichel was Leeds’ best player on the day with a crucial double-save at one point doing a lot to get the Leeds faithful on his side. After all, you don’t get to pick your parents.
Defence: Paul Connolly, playing on the right side of defence, 27 years of age and recently signed from Derby County! Connolly acquitted himself well particularly in the first half. He played with an arm heavily bandaged and strapped but didn’t seem to notice that too much. He defended well and was a good distributor of the ball.
Federico Bessone, another debutant. The Argentinian who moved from Swansea had a quiet game on the left side of the defence. He did little wrong but his work rate will need to improve if the defensive performance of the team is to do likewise.
Neill Collins who sent some time at Leeds on loan last season and has now joined them permanently, was paired with captain Richard Naylor in central defence. Perhaps it was that Collins was not in his best position but the two looked out of place against the lively and energetic Hulse and Commons. They were outclassed and over-matched with Collins perhaps enjoying the better performance of the pair.
Midfield: Leeds crammed the midfield and all the central midfield players performed well. Jonny Howson, Bradley Johnson and Neil Kilkenny all did their best to feed the wide players and to provide defensive help for those behind them. Unfortunately each of these players is more inclined to push forward which left those behind them a little exposed particularly since the defence was out-matched for speed.
Width was provided by loanee Sanchez Watt and new signing, Lloyd Sam. Sam who has joined the team from Charlton looked like he didn’t know quite where he was meant to be playing and he was the first of the Leeds team to be withdrawn to make room for Aidan White. Sam will have to show much greater confidence and application if he is to succeed in West Yorkshire. Watt did better but seemed a little lightweight and was too easily knocked off the ball. In the second half. Kilkenny was also substituted for another debutant and loan player, Adam Clayton. Clayton did okay but all the central midfield guys looked to have similar skills and with one of the wide players drifting through the game there was too little invention to feed the lone central attacker.
Attack: That lone central attacker was Luciano Becchio who also provided the lone Leeds goal and 90% of the opportunities that came Leeds’ way. He was asked to do too much and when eventually offered a partner in Mike Grella who replaced Howson after 86 minutes, it was expecting too much of his tired legs to take advantage of this very late, almost token, change.
So what does the season hold for Leeds? Despite today’s defeat I don’t think the season is going to be too bad. We have a lot of new players who will take time to find their feet and one another. With a few tweaks, some players back from injury and a lot of settling in, I would expect Leeds to finish in the top half.