A visit to Elland Road these days requires that you buy a matchday programme. Not for some interesting half time reading … but in order to identify the players. The team (indeed the squad) has changed beyond recognition and many of the players are new to the UK. So being able to pick out the numbers on the shirts and check them against the list in the programme is the only way forward.
But this is the new regime under Massimo Cellino so the days when Leeds fans could probably guess who the 12 players on duty prior to arriving at the ground are long gone. There was a time when the only game to play on the coach on the way to the stadium was to guess which position utility man Paul Madeley would be asked to fill. Caretaker manager, Neil Redfearn has a very different task on his hands.
That illustrious past is as much a curse as a blessing for Leeds these days. Visiting Sky reporter, Jim White, on the pitch at half time, raises barely a murmur when he talks of the “great days of Eddie Gray and Peter Lorimer” but is more warmly received when he talks about the possibility of a golden future. Outside the ground, Howard’s restaurant (named for former manager, Howard Wilkinson) is closed for the “forseeable future” and another successful period of Leeds’ past apparently needs some renovation.
However, a home derby against struggling Huddersfield Town can still raise a crowd of just short of 30,000 so it is that talk of potential which hangs heaviest in the air. The programme reveals that Redfearn has 34 players in his current squad with copious numbers of signings having been made by Cellino since he took over – some of whom have not even been given a debut yet. The numbers cover 1-35 with only the number 17 shirt left empty. The number 17, of course, was the centre of so much controversy just a few weeks ago when it was suggested that Cellino had a huge superstition about using the number. The occupant of that shirt, goalkeeper Paddy Kenny, has since negotiated his release from the club. Something else to go into the folklore of Leeds United and its bizarre history.
Let’s look at who made up the team against Huddersfield:
1. Marco Silvestri
The Italian goalkeeper didn’t really have a lot to do against Huddersfield but what he does he seems to do very well and with confidence. In pre-match practice, he was learning to shout “mine!” in English when he came out in the penalty area to collect the ball in the air. During the game, he collected the ball in flight by getting his whole body behind the ball – a skill that many English goalkeepers seem to have neglected to learn over the last couple of decades.
3. Stephen Warnock
Full back Warnock has been a revelation in his good games this season and this was one of them. He defended strongly and wasn’t afraid to get forward in an overlapping role. He has made a real claim for a regular spot in the line-up – something which seemed highly unlikely at the end of last season.
4. Rodolph Austin
Midfielder Austin (from Jamaica) is another who has looked a far improved player under Redfearn. He plays either in central midfield or in right midfield. In this game, he was a lot of fun to watch. He would collect the ball, put his head down and run forward for all he was worth. Sometimes this resulted in a scoring opportunity, sometimes in a corner and just occasionally he was going nowhere albeit with a lot of energy. He scored the first goal with a great shot which left the Huddersfield goalkeeper without a chance. That was the first goal of the season for him but it won’t be his last if he continues to play in this way. This ebullient fan favourite was given the man-of-the-match award.
5. Giuseppe Belussci
Belussci (another Italian) is a strong presence in the middle of the park being used primarily as a central defender. He is a little temperamental. This has resulted in him collecting 2 yellow cards and 1 red in his five games to date. This statistic includes the one he received today for a loose tackle. At the same time, he is also a key figure when he is able to press forward. He scored in midweek from a free kick against Bournemouth and today, he broke through and unleashed a great shot which hit the bar, resulting in Antenucci taking the opportunity to net the rebound for the second goal. If he can keep a clear head, he is a class act and a vital part of the team.
6. Jason Pearce
The other central defender, Pearce, an ever-present this season and captain, was mostly invisible and rather unimpressive when he did contribute something. Leeds have a terrible disciplinary record this season and Pearce (whilst not having received a red card) has three of the yellow kind.
12. Gaetano Berardi
Berardi (from Switzerland) was also pretty awful. He was sent off with 73 minutes on the clock and this was probably his most notable contribution to the game. I left very unclear as to how he could have been picked ahead of substitute, Sam Byram. This is Berardi’s second red card in 4 appearances for the Whites.
14. Tommaso Bianchi
Bianchi played on the leftside of midfield and has been a regular in the team for Leeds this season. For most of the game whenever Silvestri had to make a goal kick, free kick or clearance upfield, he did it by placing the ball to the rightside of the pitch which was by far the most crowded area. Why he was doing this was unclear until the first time that he played it in the general direction of Bianchi and he failed to control it, resulting with the ball spinning out of play for a Huddersfield throw-in. Similar lack of ball control occurred two or three more times. Bianchi contributed little else to the game.
23. Lewis Cook.
Lewis Cook at 17 is one of the bright young prospects at Leeds and on this occasion he showed why, most of the time. Playing in the centre of the park, he displays good ball control, sharp passing and can turn an opponent. Occasionally, a ball went well astray but this was on the minority of occasions. Incoming manager, Darko Milanic is said not to favour young players being blooded at the senior level too soon which will be a shame if it restricts Cook’s opportunities in the team. Either way he certainly looks like one for the future.
29. Souleymane Doukara
Frenchman, Doukara is a titan of upper body strength and isn’t afraid to mix it with an opponent or simply to put himself in the way of a charging midfielder who is looking to advance the other team’s cause. Of course, as a centre forward, these are not his only strengths and he scored the first goal against Bournemouth and the last here against Huddersfield. He has a strong shot but is a little hesitant at taking advantage of his full height (6’1″) and has a tendency to dip his head when the ball comes to him in the air. He picked up a yellow card for removing his shirt during his goal celebration which seemed a little foolish, but everything else was just fine.
33. Casper Sloth
Sloth is a Dane who was making his third appearance on the right side of midfield. On the whole, he did well with some nice touches and should settle into the team well with a few more outings. He was withdrawn when Byram came on to fill the gap left by Berardi’s sending off.
34. Mirco Antenucci
Italian-born, Antennuci was making his fifth appearance and gathered his second goal of the week. His key asset is his speed and he utilised this to good effect for most of the game. However, when the ball was not near him he seemed to drift and adopt a walking pace. He doesn’t seem to be one to chase back when the team are being pressed. This was not much of a concern against Huddersfield who didn’t bring much pressure to bear after the first twenty minutes but would be more concerning against stronger opposition. He cuts an amusing figure with his shorts slung low at the waist and hanging to the knees and will become popular with the fans if he keeps following up on loose balls and carving out goal opportunities.
2. Sam Byram (73′) for Sloth
19. Steve Morison (86′) for Doukara
18. Michael Tonge (90+2′) for Austin
Nothing much to say here, other than to note that Byram was by far the most impressive and to suggest it would have been nice to see young Brazilian, Adryan (who looks 12 but is actually 20) have a run out.
So, on the whole, pretty good from Leeds and a massive improvement on the disarray which reigned at the point that Hockaday was sacked and Redfearn was put in temporary charge.