A WEEK is a long time in football, never mind politics. Just ask Steve Morison.
Seven days on from being berated by a section of Leeds United fans in seriously forthright fashion when he came off 13 minutes from time in the 2-2 draw at Chesterfield, the under-fire striker was handed a far more pleasant ovation when he exited the fray on Saturday.
The moment may have been brief, but it was telling. When he was replaced by Dominic Poleon a few minutes after the hour mark after putting in a solid shift at the coalface, the frontman was bestowed with applause and not acrimony by patrons of the Kop.
Morison reciprocated and pointedly clapped his hands in the direction of the home faithful before trooping off. Job done, until Millwall anyway.
Without the talismanic qualities of Ross McCormack to call upon, Leeds’ success or failure in 2014-15 will in likelihood hinge on being, as a team, greater than the sum of their parts.
The green shoots were encouraging in that respect on Saturday, albeit against a somewhat disappointing Dundee United.
Morison encapsulated the team ethic with oodles of graft on the left, tracking back constantly to help out his defence and earning his corn. A goal bonus as well, to boot.
Morison’s only previous one on home soil arrived in the 2-0 Championship win over Blackpool in February 2013 and while his latest strike may have been within the confines of a pre-season friendly, it will have been gratefully accepted, all the same.
Yet amid the early August sweat, there was substance and an even a hint of style at times from Leeds.
A way to go, yes, but a pattern of play was noticeable and pleasing on the eye. In that respect, United were bereft and homeless pretty much throughout a torrid second half of last season.
Patient, passing football backed up by a prodigious work rate without the ball is the way United and David Hockaday will endeavour to go this season with some choice glimpses afforded at the weekend with the majority of the 10,150 in attendance going home happy and with value for money.
United certainly got far more out of proceedings than in their only home pre-season friendly 12 months ago when they were comfortably beaten 2-0 by Nuremberg, who strolled to victory on an afternoon when the hosts failed to lay a glove on their German opponents.
Saturday was much more reassuring, even if it was against a side not as strong in Dundee United. But everyone passed muster.
In his home debut, Tommaso Bianchi possessed the poise, passing range and willingness to take the ball at every opportunity to suggest he could be a ‘player’.
Souleymane Doukara also endeared himself well, with his persistence, work-rate and strength bothering the visiting rearguard all game in a performance that had moved on a distance from his token efforts against Guiseley.
Not to be outdone, the ‘old stagers’ also put their hand up in the shape of Morison and Michael Tonge, whose quality levels were commendable and made you wonder just why he was not utilised more in the second half of 2013-14.
A clean sheet too will not have gone unnoticed and while new no.1 keeper Marco Silvestri, another making his Elland Road bow, had little to do, what he did, he did fairly well.
Tick marks across the board then, with the fillip of an early Leeds goal in Hockaday’s first outing in the home dug-out setting the tone.
United – who have hit a mere four goals in the first half of home games this calendar year – conjured up a meaningful moment just three minutes in.
Probing work in the midfield ended with Tonge supplying a dangerous low cross from the right with Morison ghosting in at the far post to tap the ball home in routine fashion after the Arabs’ defence was dissected.
It was just reward for a dominant first half from United when the ball was their friend.
The visitors were comfortably second best in an anaemic showing in the opening 45 minutes and could not have complained if the interval deficit they were facing was a larger one.
They had one genuine threatening moment when Callum Morris gave the United defence the slip before planting a header following Chris Erskine’s corner over, with Silvestri’s only first-half save coming on the half-hour when he comfortably held Stuart Armstrong’s tame shot.
Other than that, Leeds were in the box seat with Rudy Austin picking up a pass deep in visiting territory from Sam Byram on 11 minutes before seeing a well-struck effort which was destined for the top corner, only for Radoslaw Cierzniak to show his agility to turn away the shot.
Leeds kept their foot on the throttle with Bianchi, who linked up particularly well with Byram, almost crowning an accomplished first period when he saw his shot hit the woodwork. Skipper Jason Pearce then saw a dangerous header cleared before neat work from Bianchi and Doukara ended with Tonge shooting straight at Cierzniak.
Perhaps the moment of the first half then arrived with another polished move seeing Doukara totally outfox Jarek Fojut down the right before laying the ball into the path of Bianchi, who prevaricated too long with the goal at his mercy, with Erskine making a last-ditch block.
The shrill of the half-time whistle brought appreciation from home fans and while the second half was more subdued, United’s intention to keep the ball on the deck was pronounced.
Doukara, for his part, never gave the visiting defence a moment’s peace and provided evidence that he will prove a useful combatant during the season.
At the other end, visiting United, who made five substitutions in the 54th minute, asked more questions, but without overly troubling the home defence as Leeds held firm.
Substitute Charlie Telfer did break through to fire one decent chance wide, with Silvestri’s only meaningful save being a telling one late on when he blocked Ryan Dow’s effort.
As it was, another goal did arrive and after the visitors waited in vain for a free-kick following Matt Smith’s challenge on Fojat, sub Poleon cashed in on the uncertainty to home in on goal and round Cierzniak before slotting the ball into the empty net four minutes from time. Moments later, Poleon tested the reflexes of Cierniak with a low shot before referee Andy Madley called time on a decent afternoon’s work by United. The phoney war now over, it is now onto the real thing in the Lions’ den.
Leeds United: Silvestri; Byram (C Taylor 74), Wootton, Pearce, Warnock (Berardi 46); Austin (Hunt 46); Bianchi, Murphy (Dawson 62), Tonge (Cook 62); Morison (Poleon 62), Doukara (M Smith 79). Substitutes not used: S Taylor.
Dundee United: Cierzniak; Dillon (Watson 51), Fojat, Morris, Townsend; Erskine (Spittal 54), Rankin (Dow 54), Patton (S Smith 68); Armstrong (Mackay-Steven 54); Graham (Bilate 54), Ciftci (Telfer 54). Substitutes not used: McCallum, Connolly, Fraser, Petrie.
Referee: Andy Madley.