Leeds United made it two wins from two at Cardiff City on Tuesday night. Here’s what we learned from the game.
1) Steve Evans is not without a backbone
To look at Evans in the tunnel at Brighton last Monday was to look at a broken man. His body language was that of a coach who knew how badly Leeds had been hammered and probably doubted whether Massimo Cellino had any time left for him.
Given the movement below United in the Championship table since then, a bad week might have done for him and Evans - to judge by Cellino’s track record - was in do-or-die territory before Bolton on Saturday. Two wins from two games, including a first victory at Cardiff since the days when Frankie Goes to Hollywood were outselling everyone else, is an impressive riposte to serious questions about Evans’ ability to ride out the storm. Long-term, who knows what Cellino has in store for him? But the results against Bolton and Cardiff should keep him in place for at least the rest of this season.
2) Leeds have missed Gaetano Berardi - just as much as Chris Wood
Goals are problem for Leeds. Remote tribes in the Amazon know that and it is telling that three efforts in two matches have established Mirco Antenucci as the club’s joint top scorer. So the return of Chris Wood - at Blackburn Rovers this weekend, surely - can only help but the loss of Berard to ankle ligament damage has been just as costly. Leeds look stronger at right-back with the Swiss defender there.
They look more balanced across the back four with Charlie Taylor complementing Berardi on the left-hand side. Those two will be among the main picks for player of the year and Berardi is worth consideration, despite having played only 20 times.
3) A more complete game would make Marco Silvestri an outstanding goalkeeper
Mediocre goalkeepers are often charitably described as good shot-stoppers. Where shot-stopping is concerned, Silvestri is better than good. His performance at Cardiff was an example of his biggest talent - his speed of reaction to efforts which would easily beat others. What Silvestri lacks is all-round ability; good control of his area, effective distribution, decision-making under high balls. Those are obvious weaknesses but you would like to think that, for a keeper of his age, they could be coached out of him. The instinctive aspect is not a problem.
4) Counter-attacking football pays off in the Championship
Leeds were lucky last night. There’s no denying that the frame of the goal was as important as Silvestri and Cardiff had 25 shots to United’s 10, very few of them speculative. But Leeds got their tactics right by not only inviting City onto them but by having the commitment to counter aggressively. They also had the sense to do so without throwing caution to the wind and Cardiff rarely found Leeds short of numbers at the back. The more you watch the Championship, the more you realise that trying to play through a deep, packed defence asks too much of many teams. It is more and more fashionable to play on the break. And more and more productive.
5) Old stadiums had something which new venues never will
The blurry footage of George McCluskey scoring in Cardiff in 1984 can be packed away forever. That is one record dealt with at last. But when you sit in a vast, pristine, half-empty ground like the Cardiff City Stadium, there’s something sad about the demise of venues as rough as Ninian Park (now a quiet housing estate over the road). Yes, it was horrible. Yes, on our last visit there in 2007 the visiting media corp were in permanent fear of a kicking, sat in the middle of a hostile home end. But it had soul and it put teams on edge. In time grounds like that will disappear completely. And we’ll miss them when they’ve gone.