After defeat at home to Portsmouth two weeks ago and an under-strength young team were beaten by Southampton on the South coast last week, I’m sure the Academy would be desperate for three points today to reward what’s actually been a very promising start to the new season.
United got off to a flyer with Tom Lawrence producing a piece of magic to create a yard of space for himself which he used to smash the ball left footed into the bottom left corner from the edge of the box after an attack down the right.
In the 38th minute Leeds equalised through a somewhat fortuitous strike from leftback Turner. Having been booked a few minutes previous, he made a rampaging run down the left and found himself in acres of space thanks to makeshift United right back Luke Hendrie ball watching his way into the centre of United’s defence. That allowed Turner the time to produce a cracking strike from a very tight angle that found its way beyond Joe Coll at the near post. Coll will doubtless be disappointed with himself.
In between the goals the sides sparred with each other but to be fair United had the upper hand and the most chances. Zeki Fryers, who was starting under the ‘overage player’ rule, hit the bar after a deft back heel from Luke McCullough had put him in from a corner. Lawrence went close with a clipped effort from the right that couldn’t quite find the far corner and went over the bar. Sam Byrne could’ve found the net and so too could James Weir but neither could beat the keeper when one-on-one.
The second half began slowly but progressed into an open end-to-end match that could’ve gone either way but had United NOT come away with the win I think it would’ve been very harsh, they were (are) obviously the better of the two teams and to me they’re showing signs of becoming a very very impressive team that could produce some excellent prospects for the future.
Leeds did have their periods of pressure, but for a six yard box melee that could’ve turned into an equaliser they didn’t create any chances of note. They can play though, and they did look menacing but failed to break down a well organised centre back pairing of Fryers and McCullough. Even their long range efforts weren’t testing Joe Coll. They were also impressive in defence despite leaking three goals, particularly in the first half when they denied United any opportunity to attack with width. The defence and midfield worked hard to communicate and work as a unit to direct the play into the middle where United were too far apart from each other to hurt them. In the second half both Fryers and McCullough started to move out of defence when the opportunity proffered itself and the tactic began to break down
It was one of those direct runs by Fryers that led to United’s second on the hour. Fryers moved out of defence into an open midfield, he found Lawrence who worked the ball to Sam Byrne who neatly returned it. Lawrence produced a similar piece of skill he used for his first goal (shifted the ball from right foot to left foot with a back foot flick) to sell the defender who slid in with a challenge that took away Lawrence’s standing leg. The referee had no hesitation in awarding United the penalty and Lawrence stepped up to take it. Now, we all know that keepers in the Premier League study the penalty takers before each game, if Leeds had done the same thing they’d have known that Tom almost always slots his penalties low and to the right…..and that’s exactly what he did again for his second of the game and his 3rd of the season in two appearances.
Tyler Blackett finally overlapped Jack Barmby and whipped in a great cross that just eluded Byrne’s head and hit van Velzen in the chest but amazingly only barely went over the bar.
When Blackett overlapped for a second time with just a few minutes left on the clock, the outcome was very different. United won themselves a corner that Joe Rothwell and Tom Lawrence opted to take short. Lawrence gave it to Barmby who gave it back to Rothwell, he gave back to Lawrence who feinted, spun and delicately put the ball in the path of Rothwells clever run behind the defence, he found Barmby square and he took a touch to set himself up before burying it left footed into the bottom right corner. It was a great example of what this team’s about, tricky intricate passing that requires a huge amount of technique and skill to execute successfully.
That was game over and United had their first points of the season.
Individuals and Officials
A mention must go to the officials today who I thought had a tremendous influence on the game. The referee, Mr K Sarsfield, was on first names terms with the players, he explained his decisions, he shared a few laughs and officiated with a calm authority that football at this level really deserves and appreciates. At one point he asked Luke Hendrie “let’s see if you’ve learned your lesson?” after explaining why he’d continuously been pulled up for climbing on the attacker when trying to head goal kicks out……Luke didn’t make another foul of that sort again. Consider that Luke’s actually a midfielder standing in at right back, then how good is it that even a referee is having a positive effect on the development of the players……imagine Howard Webb being caught by lip readers offering anyone, especially a United player, advice?
That brings me nicely onto individual performances and a few observations.
The standout performance of the day came from Tom Lawrence. He’s figured heavily in this match report and he deserves any praise this performance brings him from wherever it comes from. I know my Twitter timeline was littered with praise for him, maybe they didn’t even know that he played through massive back pain he suffered whilst away with Wales in Bulgaria last week. Tom’s scored three in two games now but his game was and is about so much more than just goals. He drops into the hole and finds space to help himself and his team mates. He released James weir into a goal scoring chance behind the defence in the first half, he was integral in Jack Barmby’s goal and he looks to be the catalyst for anything this team might achieve this season.
Joe Rothwell also impressed me. To me he’s like a throw back to what I imagine Bobby Charlton would’ve looked like at 17, his frame, his style, his posture and even his hair! Joe appears to treat every pass with 100% concentration and has the desire to get involved, find the ball and keep possession. He knows when to march forward but he also knows when to track back to help a team mate who’s in trouble or out of position. If Joe adds shooting from the edge of the box to his game he could prove to be a serious weapon through the middle.
James Weir had a quiet opening half hour but then sprung to life. He’s tenacious and dynamic, he doesn’t look the most technically gifted player in the world but he knows how to win the ball back and play it out of trouble. His role and his development will be interesting to watch because I think he was pencilled in to play his part on the periphery of the team offering back up, but on today’s display he could possibly push for a more regular place in the team as the season unfolds.
Luke McCullough looked assured again at the back. Tyler Blackett was strong in the tackle today but sometimes looks rushed when in possession unless he’s bombing down the wing. Great to see Zeki Fryers get a run out at this level. He missed the majority of last season so it could be argued that this is where he is at the moment. I’m not sure if he’s in the plans long term or short term but either way I think he had a decent game today and influenced the game defensively and also contributed up front. Luke Hendrie isn’t a right back…..no seriously…..Luke Hendrie ISN’T a right back! He’s a midfielder and he can pass and his teamwork’s excellent but his positioning that allowed Leeds’ goal was painful. He didn’t take his eyes off the ball from the second it entered his territory to the moment it left Turners boot, by which time it was too late, McCullough had been forced to move out to cover and the whole defence was in chaos as Hendrie marked nothing in the centre of the box.
Jack Barmby had a frustrating day in front of his Dad today. Switched from left to right he struggled to get past his marker and his first touch was letting him down. Just one of those days I think. Second half he helped himself to the goal and found a lot more space out wide on the left wing, only to be ignored or not seen by the playmakers in the centre.
Gyliano van Velzen: I’m lost for words here, I think it’s best I don’t say anything to be honest! My opinion last season was in the minority but I stood by it and predicted he wouldn’t improve. Personally I think when the Academy has taken to the field over the last season and now, they’re effectively playing with ten men. I hope to stand corrected over the coming months but on the evidence of the opening games I see no reason to change my mind. He failed to get himself into today’s game and on the few occasions he did he couldn’t beat his man, he held on to the ball too long and he wanders around like…..dare I say it?…..no I won’t! I really want the kid to develop so I’ll cross my fingers for all his adoring followers. I think I might make a new section of the report called ‘GVV WATCH’ and be as brief as needs be from week to week, we all know what I think of him without me repeating it every week!
Sheffield United (Away – KO 11:00): As far as I’m aware the squad will be missing Matthew Wilkinson, Ben Pearson, Don Love and new boy Gollini for the trip over the Pennines to face last season’s FAYC runners-up. James Wilson also picked up what sounds like a nasty injury at Southampton last week and could be out for a while. If I hear any news I’ll post it up in a match preview on Friday.
I’m travelling up to Sheffield for this one so there’ll be plenty of Twitter updates during the game. Anyone else travelling up feel free to let me know…..we’ll get a few songs going!
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