Picture credit - @mikeyblesic

Picture credit – @mikeyblesic

The new era phrase has been thrown around so many times these last 7-8 years, it was hard to resist a cynical view as we head for Elland Road yesterday. We were missing some of our favourite protagonists and the starring cast, Leeds United’s starting XI, contained many of the names who’d failed to impress us last season. It felt like I’d seen this production before and the performance wasn’t something I cared to relive.

But I was reminded of a new director, a new script and a new production team which gave some cause for optimism. Those other new eras, ushered in by a change in manager, promotion or an influx of new players, were really just another act in the long running Ken Bates production of Leeds United On The Cheap. This time really was different. The villain of our tragic tale had been vanquished, and while the “on the cheap” part may remain true, the Ken Bates chronicles had come to an end.

“That Chelsea bastard, he’s out of our club” a packed Elland Road sang at decibel levels not reached since Leeds United beat Bristol Rovers to secure promotion from League One and with that, our 2013/14 campaign was under way.

Brighton’s part in all this seemed somewhat trivial, but Leeds United fans were reminded of their presence within the opening five minutes when a 20 yard strike required the first save of the game from Paddy Kenny.

Leeds looked to assert a little pressure of their own, quickly showing a new found belief in passing football, but it was Brighton who delivered the opening blow on 13 minutes. Leeds failed to break down a good passing move from the visitors and when Ulloa found sight of goal, he made no mistake. 0-1

Elland Road was temporarily silenced as Leeds fans came to terms with an unexpected twist in the tale, but the players kept their heads up, quickly re-establishing a rhythm to their play and within five minutes, the stadium erupted.

Ross McCormack, crucial to almost every attacking move Leeds United made, received the ball from a Michael Tonge cross, controlled well, turned and struck the ball calmly beyond the reach of Brighton’s keeper. 1-1

Million pound man, Luke Murphy had a couple of shots from distance, one of which was struck so badly it went out for a Brighton throw, while Luke Varney was also getting in on the action with a couple of chances of his own.

But the first half ended even. Leeds had dominated since Brighton’s opener, passing the ball well, closing down in midfield and using a surprising amount of width for a team so lacking in wide players. Ross McCormack, playing a free-roaming position behind the strikers, and Luke Varney were two players in particular getting out wide to stretch Brighton and create space for Leeds to operate in. This was clearly a McDermott tactic designed to compensate for our lack of wingers, and it worked well throughout.

Leeds started the second half on the front foot, passing the ball well, breaking up play in midfield and looking to get forward when the opportunity presented itself. It took about ten minutes for the first shot of the half however, a Leeds United counter-attacking move which ended with a shot wide from Luke Varney.

Brighton weren’t done yet though, themselves a good passing side who like to get forward, twice being denied by Paddy Kenny in the space of a few seconds as the game entered its final third.

Noel Hunt, who’d had a pretty disappointing day in truth, was replaced by Dominic Poleon with a little over twenty minutes remaining and the substitute almost made an immediate impact, striking just wide of Brighton’s post within a few minutes of entering the field.

A frantic finish to the game saw Dominic Poleon denied by a good save from the Brighton keeper, before Paddy Kenny pulled off the save of the day to deny Will Buckley from six yards. An unbelievably good stop from a keeper enjoying one of his best performances to date in a Leeds United shirt.

While fans were still celebrating the incredible stop from Paddy Kenny, Leeds broke at the opposite end of the field, Luke Murphy taking control of the ball inside Brighton’s box before firing goalwards, his shot deflecting off the keeper, onto the inside of the post and into the back of the net. 2-1.

It was the kind of début moment footballers dream of, a winning goal in the very last minute of the game, in front of the Kop end. Such was the level of chaos in the Kop, I couldn’t tell you the precise moment the final whistle blew if I wanted to, but it was at some point during the wild celebrations that followed Murphy’s winner.

Ups and downs v Brighton

There were few negatives to this performance, so let’s get those out of the way first. Defensively, we still look shaky. So predictable was Brighton’s opening goal, I called it 30 seconds before it happened. We saw it so many times last season, defensive situations where no one takes charge and the players hold off the opposition. The space opened up and Brighton punished us.

Noel Hunt – He said after the game how disappointed he was with his performance and that’s no surprise. The striker barely made an impact on the game and it would have been easy to forget he was on the pitch. Nothing to be too concerned about though, Hunt is a seasoned professional who won’t allow one bad performance to effect his season. He’ll improve.

Drawing positives from the game isn’t difficult, but the midfield really stands out. In the centre of the park, Leeds passed the ball and closed down well. We also played with a surprising amount of width, aided in no small part by the strikers and full-backs.

The stand-out players were Luke Murphy, Ross McCormack and Paul Green. All playing midfield. Paul Green was often an unsung hero of our better performances last season. He’s a tireless grafter who really suits the defensive midfield role, so much so, that it’s hard to see where Rodolph Austin will be deployed upon his return.

Luke Murphy has a touch of Jonny Howson about him. He passes the ball around well and isn’t afraid to get forward and shoot. Hard to justify the cost of his signature on one game alone, but that’s as good a start as he could hope for.

Ross McCormack was everywhere. Left wing, right wing, centre of the box, centre of midfield. He covered every inch of Brighton’s half, central to almost every attacking move Leeds United forged. His control is second to no one in this team and the runs he makes across the front of defensive lines drags the opposition out-of-position creating space Leeds United can exploit. He’ll be Leeds United’s key player this season.

Luke Varney remains something of an enigma. One minute he’s chasing a lost cause, somehow beating both the defender and the laws of motion to take possession of a ball he had no possible chance of capturing, then the next minute, he’s scuffing shots hopelessly wide and feigning injury. He reminds me of Peter Crouch. So often frustrating, yet so often useful. It shouldn’t work, but it somehow does.

Paddy Kenny. Make no mistake, he won the game for us. He looks like a leaner, more determined version of the goalkeeper I wasn’t hugely impressed with at times last season – though that could be said of half the team in fairness. Kenny’s save towards the end of yesterday’s game is destined to feature prominently in our season highlights reel next year.

Finally, the crowd. The atmosphere was electric, the best we’ve had inside Elland Road since promotion v Bristol Rovers. It was a celebration of new beginnings and a great day for the club. Let’s hope there’s many more to follow.

New era?

Most definitely. If Ken Bates’ era was Macbeth, yesterday was Twelfth Night. An altogether more cheerful production with far less tragedy… So far, at least.

On and on.