Thomas Christiansen will not kid himself that this was Borussia Monchengladbach at full strength but the best that the Bundesliga club were willing to send to the friendly in Schwaz was no great match for his own.
Leeds United have passed through the stage of pre-season where nothing more than fitness matters and a 1,000-strong crowd in Austria saw Christiansen’s players at their most fluent to date, at least until the substitutions began in earnest.
There were shades of North Ferriby in the first half as Leeds peppered Borussia’s goalkeeper, Moritz Nicholas, but reached half-time a single goal to the good. Finishing, again, was Christiansen’s only issue.
A Yeboah led the line for Monchengladbach – Australian Kwame Yeboah, no relation to Leeds’ own Tony – and had the younger version drawn any comparison there was a suspicion that he would have be directed to Borussia’s nearby friendly against Nice instead.
Leeds managed the game effectively from the moment Luke Ayling scored in the second minute but were picked off at the start of the second half by a sweet Patrick Herrmann free-kick.
The crossbar rescued Borussia twice and for Leeds’ head coach it was progress he needed to see, two-and-half weeks away from the first game of the Championship season. Leeds end their tour of Austria after Sunday’s meeting with Eibar in Jenbach and are moving quickly into the sharp end of the summer.
“That’s the best we’ve played so far,” said Christiansen. “The first half was good, very good in parts, and in the second we made some changes but I can only say that the players who came in did well too.
“I’m proud of how they played today against a very good opponent like Borussia Monchengladbach.
“We created several good opportunities but didn’t take them.
“I’ve said that before and I recognise it but if it’s only that we don’t put (the ball) into the net, that will come.
“If we are creating these chances in the first place then more and more we will start taking them. It is harder to provoke and produce opportunities than it is to score them.”
Pontus Jansson, Kemar Roofe, Pablo Hernandez and Chris Wood were at the end of attacks which should have put Monchengladbach away before the interval. There was misfortune too and a brilliant save from Nicholas to deny Hernandez early in the second half, moments before Roofe shook the bar.
“I cannot be anything other than happy,” Christiansen said.
“I see the progress and I imagine other people see it too.”
Much of the strongest core of Monchengladbach’s squad was reserved for a meeting with Nice in Germany at 6pm on Thursday, keeping the likes of Thorgan Hazard away from Schwaz, but coach Dieter Hecking named defensive midfielder and £12million signing Denis Zakaria in his line-up along with experienced American Fabian Johnson and another recent buy, Italian forward Vincenzo Grifo.
The timing of today’s friendly, an early afternoon start, guaranteed humid conditions and between the heat and a respectable Monchengladbach’s team, Christiansen got the fixture he wanted, despite the rain coming down eventually.
A scrambled meeting with Bursaspor in Italy on Monday kept Leeds’ tour of Austria in tact, despite the almighty confusion surrounding it, and Christiansen was able to put nine of his players through an hour or more against Monchengladbach.
There were interesting aspects of his line-up – Felix Wiedwald preferred to Rob Green in goal, Hernandez used ahead of Samuel Saiz at number 10 – but not enough to confidently suggest that he was showing his hand in the more up-for-grab positions.
The game was a minute old when Ayling caught the eye by exchanging passes with Roofe and bursting into the box before beating Nicholas with a shot which the keeper got a hand to and flew in off the post.
It was the first of a spate of openings.
Jansson scuffed a header wide of an open goal and both Hernandez and Wood failed to finish off the scraps after Kalvin Phillips’ free-kick struck the bar.
United’s passing in the final third was quick and direct, helped by the dominance of Phillips and Eunan O’Kane and bothering a three-man Monchengladbach defence but from a standing start, Hecking’s side pegged Leeds back in the second minute of the second half. Gianni Alioski – quick and aggressive with the ball and a grafter without it – fouled outside the box and Patrick Herrmann, a Germany international, pinged a gem of a free-kick into Wiedwald’s top corner.
Even then, Monchengladbach counted their luck. In one attack before the hour, Alioski stole possession on the left wing, Nicholas pulled of blinding save to keep out Hernandez’s low shot, Roofe smashed the rebound against the underside of the bar and Wood found Nicholas waiting to block a third attempt. It was a last surge before six substitutions.
“Sometimes it goes this way but these were big chances,” Christiansen said.
“The first job is to create them and we are doing that. We are going step by step and this was a very good game for us. But we must still get better.”
At full-time United’s players were swamped by a crowd looking for selfies. For 20 minutes they sat outside their dressing room as fans behind the nearby advertising hoardings serenaded them with songs. “Seeing this many fans in Austria for a friendly tells you what a good move this is,” said Matthew Pennington, the centre-back who joined Leeds on loan from Everton on Wednesday after saying no to Hull City.
Borussia Monchengladbach: Nicholas, Mayer (Beyer 62), Strobl, Herrmann, Zakaria, Johnson, Benes, Hofmann, Elvedi, Grifo, Yeboah (Villalba 62). Subs (not used): Sommer, Feigenspan, Rutten.
Leeds United: Wiedwald, Ayling (Gomes 77), Jansson (Pennington 46), Cooper (Shaughnessy 77), Berardi (Anita 46), O’Kane (Bridcutt 64), Phillips (Vieira 64), Alioski (Sacko 46), Roofe (Dallas 46), Hernandez (Saiz 46), Wood (Ekuban 46). Subs (not used): Green, Peacock-Farrell, Doukara, Antonsson.