A few eyebrows were raised as Neil Redfearn’s starting XI was revealed for the visit to the Macron Stadium yesterday; Luke Murphy, Casper Sloth and Steve Morison all made the cut while in-form Alex Mowatt and leading goalscorer Mirco Antenucci were benched. Adryan meanwhile failed to make the 18.

At first glance, the line-up looked less than convincing and was met with a lot of disgruntled moans from the Whites faithful, but the changes were designed to facilitate the change of system as Leeds continued with the 4-2-3-1 they’d used against Sunderland in The FA Cup.

The selection was a big risk for Neil Redfearn, one that could very easily have cost him his job, but one that also demonstrated a growing confidence in his own ability and a maturity to his decision-making. While previous line-ups have been an attempt to try and field the best individuals, Redfearn gambled on a line-up that saw key players sidelined in an attempt to field a balanced and competitive team.

Steve Morison, perhaps the most criticised change Redfearn made, is an example of picking players to suit the system. It seems a strange move to replace leading goalscorer Antenucci with a player who’s never really impressed for Leeds, but 4-2-3-1 means a lone striker and Mirco Antenucci isn’t suited to that role.

It’s one of the many problems Redfearn has been faced with when considering a change of system. The Leeds boss has expressed his desire to play with more width but Leeds’ squad leaves little room for maneuver. The much maligned 4-4-2 diamond has always been about fielding the best individuals, something of a default formation due to our abundance of central players and lack of genuine width.

Our options for changing that have always been limited, reliant upon central midfielders/forwards playing out of position, the use of wing-backs – which was always a risky proposition away from home – or a narrower formation with the full-backs expected to perform miracles. None of the options are ideal.

Redfearn went for broke and risked his job on a few key selections, most notable – for me at least – wasn’t Steve Morison, but Gaetano Berardi at right-back. The Berardi selection gave me most cause for concern because he’d never really impressed me in previous outings, often badly positioned and always looking a yard off the pace and that’s led to clusmy challenges and poor decision-making. Nevertheless, the decision to start Berardi allowed Sam Byram to play a wide midfield role, solving one half of the Leeds United midfield conundrum.

On the left, Leeds had to compromise. An injury to Stephen Warnock meant we couldn’t switch a left-back to midfield because the only left-back we had left – Charlie Taylor – had to play at… well, left-back. It did however give Casper Sloth chance to make an impact and while an out-of-position central midfielder is never the right answer, one player uncomfortably out of position is better than the alternative (ie. wide open passageways down both flanks teams can effortlessly exploit.)

The result of these changes was instant, Sam Byram immediately taking to his new position and causing problems for Bolton Wanderers by cutting inside and running at the home sides defence to be felled by former Whites keeper Andy Lonergan and win Leeds a penalty. Rodolph Austin stepped up confidently and gave Leeds the lead within the opening 3 minutes.

Rather bizarrely, the referee produced no card for the Bolton keeper. A red would have been harsh though they’re regularly given when the keeper fells an attacker, but it was at least worthy of a yellow. This proved to be something of a theme for the referee who was very reluctant to book anyone despite some very poor challenges from Bolton. On another day, the home side could have seen a couple of players sent off before half time.

Following Austin’s penalty, Steve Morison really should have doubled Leeds’ advantage, Byram again causing Bolton problems delivering a brilliant ball for Morison whose powerful header from just six yards produced a fine save from Lonergan.

While Leeds had enjoyed a couple of strong moments on the attack, the most impressive aspect of our first half was how well we battled in defence. Charlie Taylor made a vital last-ditch challenge to deny Bolton an equaliser and as the extreme winds – which blew in Bolton’s favour throughout the first half – were joined by lashings of icy rain, Bolton continued to see chances thwarted by an industrious Leeds defence.

But disaster struck early in the second half when Luke Murphy gave Bolton a penalty that the ageing Eidur Gudjohnsen expertly converted to level the tie.

Despite the equaliser, the second half was one Leeds had the better of but the Whites couldn’t find a breakthrough and the match ended in a stalemate. Given our recent struggles, a point away to an in-form Bolton side is a very good result made all the more satisfying by a strong performance.

Sam Byram was the star of the show for Leeds and after such an accomplished performance on the right-wing, it’s hard to imagine he’ll play right-back again. Charlie Taylor had the unenviable task of filling Stephen Warnock’s boots but stepped up his game and performed very well, Lewis Cook continues to impress in his defensive midfield role, often the start of attacking moves for Leeds, requiring no invitation to burst out of defensive role on the counter and take players on. Austin had another good game, Sloth was solid, Murphy did well despite the penalty and for once, I have no criticisms to make of the defence – even Berardi who looked far more comfortable with a right-midfielder to protect him.

And that was key really. There’s a balance to 4-2-3-1 that the diamond always lacked. The full-backs are protected by the wide midfielders while the centre-backs are protected by the holding central players. It’s perhaps a little too negative to be playing at home, but it’s without question the right formation to use on our travels.

There were some negatives of course, Marco Silvestri has gone from being our best player to our weakest link, suddenly hesitant to collect balls into the box and control his area. His shot-stopping is excellent, but Andy Lonergan provided an interesting contrast when it comes to controlling the box, he always looked more assured and in command of his area, I suspect he’s been a big contributing factor to Bolton’s recent form.

Perhaps more controversially, I thought Steve Morison played well. He was always in the right positions and applied pressure throughout. He should have doubled our lead with the first half header, but there’s little else I can fault him for. Still, the number 10 shirt is available following Noel Hunt’s departure and if Luciano Becchio really is an option, we’d be mad to pass on the opportunity.

Ultimately. all credit must go to Neil Redfearn, he showed genuine leadership here and his controversial line-up was thoroughly vindicated. Completely dropping the likes of Adryan, telling players to step-up their game if they want to be in contention and choosing Steve Morison over Mirco Antenucci because he better suited the system were gutsy moves. It’s tough to maintain patience when our league position looks so perilous, but like the youngsters who continue to flourish under him, Neil Redfearn is finding his feet too. Here he took a massive step forward, ignoring cries to play X and Y because they’re crowd favourites or look better on paper and put out a team he felt had the best chance, however unpopular some of those decisions were and with the genuine danger he’d lose his job if it went wrong. That’s the mark of a real leader.

On and on…