Hat-trick hero!

55 miles down the M62 to North Lincolnshire was the destination for Leeds United’s travelling army to take on a Scunthorpe side that were having little joy at home so far this season.

Built in 1988, Glanford Park is relatively new for football but despite it’s relative youth and small capacity (just over 9,000) the builders still couldn’t manage to stick a roof on without the aid of supporting beams. A minor detail usually, but when you’re stuck behind one I can assure you it can be quite irritating!

My moaning did prove quite productive however, as a fellow Leeds fan overheard and informed me that the roof wasn’t the only area in which the architect failed. The Mr. Bean of architecture also forgot to leave room for the run-off area (where throws are taken from and the dugouts are situated) which left Scunthorpe with one of the smallest pitches in the Football League, but does leave a more intimitate atmosphere with the spectators literally inches away from the action.

Once I’d stopped grumbling about the poor seats (not for the first time this season) the game got under way. Leeds lined up in a 4-5-1 formation with Becchio alone upfront and Somma dropped from the starting XI. Snodgrass, Gradel, Faye and Kilkenny made up the midfield with Jonny Howson playing an advanced role in support of our lone front man. In defence, Collins was surprisingly dropped to the bench with Bruce and the on-loan O’Brien playing central. Connolly and McCartney completed the line-up with Schmeichel between the sticks.

The line-up was clearly designed with defence in mind and considering the amount of goals Leeds United have conceded lately you can hardly blame the gaffer. Early indications were that it was going to be another tough day for Leeds when a poor goal-kick came back at Leeds and O’Brien was immediately called into action to clear off the line and save Schmeichel’s blushes.

Leeds reacted positively though, and Jonny Howson played a great ball forward to Max Gradel who struck confidently beyond Tony Warner to give Leeds United the lead within eight minutes. A good ball from Howson, great finish from Gradel and fantastic start from Leeds.

From there on, Leeds failed to seize the initiative and whilst Scunthorpe were undoubtedly on top, Schmeichel was never really threatened. It was a corner that eventually gave Scunthorpe’s fans something to cheer about when Cliff Byrne rose high at the the back post to level the game and leave Kasper pointing fingers at the defence.

For the rest of the first half neither side were in danger of adding a second and as we went to the break level at 1-1, it was clear that someone had to turn it up in the second half if they wanted to win this one.

Leeds started the second half much brighter than they’d ended the first. Max Gradel made a half-hearted appeal for a penalty before Neil Kilkenny had a Johnson-esque type shot from range. Speaking of our chubby midfielder, he was brought on in place of Amdy Faye just in time to see the Jonny Howson show…

The Leeds-born skipper’s first goal came from a Paul Connolly cross that evaded the Scunthorpe defence, leaving Jonny in prime position to smash home his first. As I looked around for a chubby bloke that had spent the entire first half slagging Jonny off without any real reason, Howson was already looking for a second, this time being denied by Warner.

Chubby bloke clearly silenced, Scunny rode out a good spell of pressure from Leeds and started to forge a few attacks of their own, most of which were built around the impressive on-loan youngster, Sears. A shot from him was tipped over the bar, resulting in consecutive corners but Scunthorpe failed to find an equaliser and Leeds were back on the attack.

Jonny Howson was again in prime position when the lively Max Gradel sent a well-weighted cross towards the back post where Jonny headed home his second to give Leeds some welcomed breathing space.

Pretty much straight from the restart, Leeds attacked again with Luciano Becchio teeing Howson up for the hat-trick. Howson gratefully fired home from the edge of the area to complete his first ever professional hat-trick and give Simon Grayson something to think about in the weeks ahead.

The win secured, the 4-5-1 system proving effective (at last) and Jonny Howson’s critics answered in spectacular style, Billy Paynter was finally handed his Leeds United début receiving a great reception for the Leeds United faithful.

Another attacking substitution came soon after with Ramon Nunez replacing Robert Snodgrass as Simon Grayson ruthlessly attempted to rub salt into Scunthorpe’s wounds and lessen Leeds United’s tragic goal difference. The subs proved largely irrelevant though as the game ended without further incident leaving the 2,000+ Leeds fans to celebrate a first win in three.

Overall, and to use an old football cliché – it was a game of two halves. Scunthorpe had the edge in the first half, but Leeds stepped it up a gear in the second with Scunthorpe unable to respond.

Ups and downs v Scunthorpe

Becchio alone up front makes absolutely no sense to me – he was a spare part throughout, and aside from setting up Jonny Howson’s third, I can’t remember him posing any threat to the opposition – I honestly don’t think he had a shot! To drop Somma – our top goalscorer – for one poor game (Cardiff) is extremely harsh from Larry!

Max Gradel was a breathe of fresh air to the side, as he so often can be. He provides a spark that seems to wake the rest of the team up when very little is happening. Delighted he got on the score sheet today, and also got himself an assist.

Schmeichel – I’m not convinced Kasper is 100% fit yet. He doesn’t look quite as assured as he did before the injury and a few little mistakes are creeping in here and there which better teams will punish us for – like Cardiff did.

O’Brien – Shame he isn’t here to stay. His Premier League experience really showed and he took nothing for granted today, always ensuring the basics were covered. Great performance from him.

Nunez & Paynter – Nunez looks very comfortable on the ball, but we’ve only seen him in matches were there is nothing left to play for so far so I’m reluctant to pass judgement on him. Paynter likewise had little to do as the match was already won. He did have half an attempt, but whilst it didn’t really threaten it was great to see him finally in a Leeds shirt.

TSS man of the match

Bit of a no-brainer today. A fifteen minute hat-trick and an assist from the captain silenced his critics in style. Jonny has taken an awful lot of unfair stick over recent weeks and I’ve been one of the few people fighting his corner, so this was a nice ‘told you so’ moment for me.

What we saw today was Jonny taken off the leash and given a license to attack, and when he’s given this kind of freedom he always performs well. Too often over recent years he’s been held back to accommodate others and forced to play in a role unsuited to a player that started his career as a striker. He’s one of the few players in the team whose commitment I could never question. He always gives 110%, even when things aren’t going well for him and today he got his reward.