Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Signs of Promise

Leeds United 4-1 Hull City.

Leeds' preparations prior to yesterday's match proved to mean little to the result as a shuffled squad grabbed the West Yorkshire club it's first league win of the season in style. Leeds boss Simon Grayson was without club captain Jonny Howson and Max Gradel after their dismissals on Saturday against Middlesbrough, adding to his frustrations consisting of a growing injury list; Billy Paynter, Leigh Bromby, Luciano Becchio and Davide Somma all receiving treatment for injuries which keep them sidelined.

McCormack's eye for goal has seen him net four times in the past five matches.

Andy Keogh joined the club on Monday afternoon to ease the injury worries, but with little time to train with his new players, and a new formation forced upon the squad, the match was set to test the resilience of the Leeds' camp. Hull themselves had a relatively full-fit squad travelling to Elland Road, with the likes of Dele Adebola and Aaron McLean not able to get a starting place for the match. On paper, Leeds' stretched squad should have faced a tougher task.

Leeds' early energy controlled the tempo and momentum of the game, and Hull were unable to compete in the opening moments. The addition of Keogh added to the versatility of the forward line, Leeds now seemingly capable of dealing with higher balls lofted from the defence. The Wolves' forward used his height and size to menace Jack Hobbs as they battled for aerial dominance. With McCormack and Snodgrass picking up the pieces, it was obvious that the most potent attacks would be coming from the team in white.

Hull 'keeper Peter Gulacsi was tested early on from Robert Snodgrass as he sent an early attempt powerfully towards goal. A relatively simple save for the 'keeper, but a telling sign of how the game was going to pan out. Ramon Nunez was the next to threaten, as the Honduras international picked up the ball from 25 yards, positioned himself well and struck a lethal shot past the 'keeper, on loan from Liverpool, only for it to crash onto the bar.

And it didn't take long after that for Leeds to make the breakthrough, Gulacsi only managing to parry a Ross McCormack header a few yards forward, allowing Ross to nod in a second attempt to the gaping goal. Leeds' early dominance had warranted their lead, with Hull barely breaking forward to test the Leeds defence. It wasn't long before an individual error cost Leeds yet again, though. A relatively simple cross was met awkwardly by young defender Tom Lees, who's positioning allowed the ball to trickle into the bottom corner. Hull's first real break forward into the final third had paid dividends, and the tie was pegged back to level terms.

The Tigers started to take the game in their own stride after that, with Leeds looking shellshocked. Lees himself struggled to quickly get himself back into the game. Hull pushed on down the wings, now Leeds' weakest position. Young winger Aidy White was filling in at left-back due to Bromby's injury which saw Darren O'Dea move to his natural position of centre back. White's natural calling to push forward and attack left a few gaping holes for the likes of Joe Dudgeon to break towards the by-line and loft in some threatening crosses. Andy Lonergan kept up his impressive start in Leeds United colours though, meeting most attacks comfortably.

Leeds' error had slowed the tempo of the game down, with the Whites looking less willing to attack in numbers. However, with a handful of set pieces opening up, there still seemed a possibility for either side to go into the interval leading. On forty minutes, with Hull failing to convincingly clear the danger from a lofted corner, Tom Lees forced a shot through the crowd from the edge of the box to regain the lead and redeem himself for his earlier mistake.

Hull pushed their lines forward in the latter stages of the first half to force an opening, but the boost in confidence for youngster Lees had the Tigers' forward line stumped. Along with O'Dea in his natural position, the new changes to the back line had given Leeds a more confident and settled feel.

Hull started the second half by introducing Aaron McLean from the bench, the potent striker able to use his pace to pose problems to any defence in the division. Hull came out looking to attack the game to try and drag themselves back from behind, but faced an early setback as Robert Snodgrass bent in a free-kick from 25 yards within a minute of the restart. Hull's chances of breaking back had quickly diminished, and Leeds again had control of the tempo and momentum. Keogh and McCormack remained tireless throughout as Hull constantly struggled to settle themselves and play at their own pace. Adam Clayton and Michael Brown refused to give Paul McKenna and Robert Koren any space to create, and constantly were first to every second ball. The resilience that had too often gone missing in the centre of the park saw a triumphant return at Elland Road, as Clayton and Brown's performance allowed Leeds to continue attacking and breaking forward.

A rare breakaway for Hull saw a passage of play taken down the right hand side, before a cross delivered an opportunity for Aaron McLean to pull a goal back. His header was acrobatically met by Lonergan's scuttling dive across goal before O'Dea dealt with the clearance. It was from then on that Leeds took the right of way and added a fourth goal and settled the tie on 69 minutes. Keogh, McCormack and Snodgrass had all met well on the right hand side, drawing the Hull defence in, before McCormack sent a clever cross through to the left hand side. Ramon Nunez met the ball unmarked and placed the ball under the unconvincing Gulacsi to seal all three points for Leeds.

Gulacsi failed to impress as Leeds put four past the on-loan 'keeper.

As expected, the game fell flat, and Hull managed to loosen themselves up and treat it as more of a training exercise. McLean and Fryatt worked more space and created more options for themselves, using the height and presence of substitute Adebola to their advantage. The final touch was missing for the Tiger's, though, too many shots going stray without any test for the Leeds goalkeeper.

The final whistle rose a standing ovation from the Leeds fans who voiced their appreciation for a much improved performance. Leeds' hardworking ethic which had gone unrewarded at the weekend had continued into Tuesday and finally Leeds were off the mark. Simon Grayson can take solace in the knowledge that his side had dispatched a very promising Hull side who clearly showed signs of quality through their overly poor performance. Nigel Pearson's men looked like a side playing well below their usual expectations rather than a side lacking in quality. Pearson must be sweating under the collar at a second loan keeper in two years, though. The Hungarian loanee failed to show any quality to match the likes of Hobbs in the Hull squad and could act as their achilles heel for the coming season.

Tactically, Hull had not expected the resilience and pace from Leeds' paper-thin selection, and it hit them hard from the word go. A more promising opening connection from Hull could have seen a different result, but ultimately Leeds' control over the game earned them the result they deserved.


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1 comment:

  1. Bad game for Gulacsi or do you reckon he simply isn't good enough? Haven't seen enough of him to be honest; it's always nice to get reports on loaned-out players.