Max Making the Grade(l) at Leeds
No doubt whatsoever who was man of the match in yesterday’s friendly between Leeds and Wolves at Elland Road: Max Gradel. With his diminutive stature, low centre of gravity, pace and nimble feet, the Ivorian is reminiscent of a younger Shaun Wright-Phillips and tortured his marker with callous ease. It was he who opened the scoring, seizing upon a loose clearance and lashing home a fabulous shot from 25 yards, and his persistence soon after the break paid dividends when he found fellow winger Lloyd Sam to knock in the home side’s second.
Whites manager Simon Grayson had opted for a 4-5-1 formation, with Luciano Becchio the lone frontman. The Argentinian put himself about with customary vigour, but Leeds did look a little lightweight up front. Hopes are very much pinned on new signing Billy Paynter – he sat out yesterday’s game with injury, but has been handed Jermaine Beckford’s number nine shirt and will be expected to fill it in every sense.
Grayson’s choice of formation did however mean that his side dominated the midfield. While Gradel and former Charlton man Sam wreaked havoc out wide, Neil Kilkenny, Jonny Howson and Bradley Johnson controlled the centre. Johnson was often pressed into service on the left during the promotion campaign, but yesterday excelled through the middle and capped his performance with a gift of a header from a free kick.
In defence, there were new faces on both flanks in the shape of Paul Connelly and Fede Bassone (recruited on frees from Derby and Swansea respectively). Neill Collins – a former Wolves man – has now signed permanently for the club for which he appeared on loan last term, and Alex Bruce, recently drafted in from Ipswich, came off the bench. With Kaspar Schmeichel – yet another new addition – seemingly first choice between the sticks, it must be interesting for Leeds fans to have to cheer on the sons of two former Man Utd legends…
Schmeichel was probably at fault for the goal which secured Wolves a barely deserved half-time score of 1-1, Matt Jarvis’ free kick eluding everyone and bouncing in at the far post. On the whole, though, the visitors were very poor in defeat, including £6.5m signing Steven Fletcher and especially his strike partner Sylvan Ebanks-Blake. The “Premier League, you’re having a laugh” chant was traded by fans of both persuasions, but only one set of supporters left with anything to be optimistic about.
It’s not all good news for Leeds either, though. Gradel’s sending-off in the final game of last season means the man who’s in such great form will be missing for their first four fixtures…
[An aside: I don’t think I’ve ever been to a stranger pre-match boozer than the Magic Sponge (though Bury’s social club does run it close). Points awarded for the name, of course, but what on earth is going on with a bar next to an indoor kids’ soft play area?! Some of our gargantuan white-shirted fellow drinkers looked as though they might view an unfortunate passing five-year-old as a suitable savoury snack.]