AFTER seeing Leeds United record their first home win of the season on Tuesday, Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from the 2-1 triumph against Blackburn Rovers at Elland Road.
Garry Monk is prepared to make bold calls and 4-2-3-1 seems to suit Leeds best
For all that £3m striker Chris Wood has endured a frustrating start to the season - one overhead kick aside - there were still plenty of raised eyebrows upon learning of Monk’s team selection on Tuesday with Wood dropped to the bench - especially in a 4-2-3-1 system. Marcus Antonsson was given the nod as the lone striker after making more of an impression this term but doubts lingered over whether the Swede could thrive as a lone striker. Those doubts still persist with Antonsson often exposed before being subbed for Wood but the general shift in shape of the team seemed to suit Leeds better. Pablo Hernandez was steady but not spectacular in the no 10 role but probably did enough to keep his place for Saturday’s trip to Cardiff, assuming Monk sticks with the new 4-2-3-1, a system which is definitely more suited to his favoured passing style. The head coach admitted afterwards that by previously opting for a 4-4-2 formation he had been sacrificing his philosophy. Switching to a 4-2-3-1, he admitted, reminded him to stick with principles. A 4-2-3-1 it is then with Wood surely likely to be given the nod upfront. Even after a below par start to the season, the New Zealand international already has four goals from eight games this term and the hope will be that his strike against Blackburn, which came as part of a decent showing from the big targetman, will ignite a run.
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Leeds can finally defend corners with Pontus Jansson a rock
The concession of two more goals from corners in the 3-1 loss at Nottingham Forest took United’s tally of goals conceded from such a set piece this season to five in six games. Not good enough. But there’s no denying that the introduction of six-foot-five centre-back Pontus Jansson has considerably strengthened United’s back line and the big Swede seems to head clear just about every cross at present. He is forming a good partnership with Kyle Bartley who even became the unlikely match-winner with his 86th-minute header. Shortly after, as part of nine nervy minutes of injury time, Blackburn forced a succession of corners which Leeds would almost certainly have conceded from earlier on in the season. Yet each delivery was cleared without alarm, more often than not by Jansson. Left back Charlie Taylor and right back Luke Ayling also had steady enough games and an unchanged back line looks likely for Saturday’s clash at Cardiff. It was a bit worrying that ‘keeper Rob Green was beaten by an identical strike to Aaron Mooy’s on Saturday by Marvin Emnes but Green had a decent game, maybe his best yet for Leeds, and definitely kept the Whites in the game with his superb double save in the final ten minutes. One swallow does not make a summer and beating Blackburn is hardly something to rave about but at least Leeds are now up and running at Elland Road and up to 17th, two points clear of the dropzone and five points off the play-offs.
Stuart Dallas is regaining form and is the answer to United’s problems on the left
Dallas was strangely well below his usual excellent high standards during his early appearances this season, leading Monk to take the winger out of the side and even out of his 18 altogether for Saturday’s home clash with Huddersfield Town. But Dallas revealed that he had been working particularly hard in training of late, impressing Monk to such a degree that he was put back into the side for Tuesday’s visit of Blackburn. The Northern Ireland international justified that decision by putting in his best performance of the season so far, looking lively throughout and having numerous attempts on target. Definite encouragement. Dallas admits his heroics with North Ireland at Euro 2016 definitely took their toll and that he needed a rest but Tuesday’s display offered hope that in the not too distant future he could start nearing a return to his best. The winger admitted he will benefit hugely from the outing - he was tired towards the end - and if fully recovered it would be a big surprise should the 25-year-old not start at Cardiff on Saturday. Dallas definitely offers more natural width then Alex Mowatt and Hernandez who have also played wide left this term. If anywhere near his best, Dallas should be clear no 1 choice. Probable man of the match Hadi Sacko excelled on the opposite flank, especially in the second half, and must be an automatic no-brainer to start on the right. With Eunan O’Kane also looking capable on debut and bound to benefit from the outing, United’s regular midfield ‘four’ looks sorted for now assuming new captain Liam Bridcutt will be fit for Cardiff. The impact injury that forced his substitution is not thought to be serious. The quandary remains in what to do with the remaining ‘two’ positions ‘upfront’ - go 4-4-2 with Wood and Antonsson or 4-2-3-1 with Hernandez as a no 10. Probably the latter with Wood recalled up tops. Antonsson, one suspects, could do plenty of damage coming off the bench. Or perhaps even he could fill a no 10 role?