It is widely accepted that coaches who tackle cup ties with wholesale changes either win the game or face the music. Garry Monk took the plunge at a stadium where Leeds United have felt pain in the past but Tyler Denton goal with shades of Ian Harte allowed him to hold the high ground.
Denton was among the beneficiaries of Monk’s approach at Luton Town, debuting on an evening when United’s head coach made 11 changes to his line-up, and a beautiful strike from the young defender put his name in lights.
There are forwards in the Championship, let alone League Two, who would wax lyrical about a finish like his.
If comparisons between Denton and Harte – the goalscoring left-back of the Champions League era who was in vogue at Leeds when Denton first joined at the age of seven – are frivolous then the connection is not. Harte acts as the 20-year-old’s agent and there were hints of the Irishman in Denton’s drift upfield on 23 minutes, into a pocket of space outside Luton’s box. When the ball came to him Denton had the presence of mind to dink it into the net with the outside of his boot.
Leeds were waiting for a moment like that having seen Luton shade the earliest moments, driven on by a feisty crowd at Kenilworth Road, and the strike was worth a place in the League Cup’s third round. In spells there was the promise of another gruelling night, a repeat of the first round at Fleetwood Town where Monk relied on a 90th-minute equaliser, extra-time and penalties but Luton’s scent of an upset dropped for a while after Denton scored. Leeds rode their luck and several near-misses in the second half to progress at a venue where other United bosses, notably John Carver and Dennis Wise, hit a brick wall in previous years.
On reflection it was encouraging for Monk that a completely revised team missing most of his big hitters could carry Leeds to stage of the League Cup which the club last reached in 2013.
His side will return to full strength at Nottingham Forest on Saturday with key players rested and no harm done.
What started as a tough month is threatening to end with a good week.
Monk tried his best beforehand to paint the trip to Luton as a priority or as much of a priority as the visit to Forest but commonsense said otherwise and his team said otherwise.
Eleven alterations and the decision to rest Chris Wood, Charlie Taylor, Kyle Bartley and Liam Bridcutt made United as changed as they could possibly have been, and as changed as Luton would have liked.
It was Monk’s prerogative at the tail-end of a packed month to pick his fights and his choice of team was bold in its own way, making him vulnerable to easy criticism if the tie at Kenilworth Road went wrong.
Luke Murphy and Souleymane Doukara were plucked from the back of his pack and Marco Silvestri appeared in goal. A lack of cohesion in Leeds’ performance was inevitable at the outset and it gave Luton the chance to set the tempo and pattern of an even match.
The League Two side did not reckon on Denton’s ability to produce something from nothing.
For 22 minutes, Monk looked in vain for Luke Murphy and Matt Grimes – booked after less than 30 seconds for a studs-up foul on Jake Gray – to take a hold of a busy midfield.
And Luton chipped away at United’s defence with intent but Christian Walton in Town’s goal had no answer to a sweet effort from Denton at the end of Leeds’ first coherent attack.
Grimes found a way through the left side of Luton’s backline and picked out Roofe who in turn laid off a pass for Denton on the edge of the box.
A long way out of position, the defender did not waste time thinking about his options and instinctively caressed the ball high into the net with a casual strike of his left boot.
Leeds needed that piece of quality to stunt Luton’s impetus and before long they were threatening to put the game away.
Roofe’s shot on the turn on 30 minutes beat Walton but hammered back off the crossbar.
And Stuart Dallas was denied by the keeper with a stinging volley from the rebound. Minus the benefit of Leeds’ tentative start, Luton began to look a cut below and Walton was called upon again to beat away a close-range shot from Souleymane Doukara.
Even so, Nathan Jones’ side should have equalised six minutes before half-time.
Sol Bamba, who returned to the team after losing his place last week, attempted to play Jack Marriott offside but misjudged his timing and left Marriott to run through on Marco Silvestri. The striker rounded Silvestri easily, opening up the net behind him, but let Bamba and Silvestri off the hook by clipping a loose effort a foot over the bar.
Leeds found no way of turning the screw after the interval and the better chances fell to Luton. Cameron McGeehan, a midfielder with four goals to his name this season, drew a full-length save from Silvestri with a free-kick on 62 minutes and a fingertip stop from the Italian with a 20-yard hit soon after.
Harriott was wasteful when it mattered, shooting wide 12 minutes from time after a glorious pass split open Monk’s defence, and they were anxious moments in a half which ended with a creditable onslaught from the unlucky lower-league side.
For Monk the night was about progression and heading to Nottingham on Saturday fresh. Job done.
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