Swindon 1 Leeds Utd 2: Robins put to flight by improving Whites

Rudolph Austin scores  Leeds' second from the penalty spot.
Rudolph Austin scores Leeds' second from the penalty spot.
0
Have your say

One more game and this will all be very real for Leeds United, their owner and their new head coach. For the first time last night there were signs that between them all three will be ready and waiting when it matters.

The scoreline at Swindon Town was more flattering than previous results, ensuring that Leeds did not pass through pre-season without beating any of their Football League opponents, and there was poise in the football which was missing before.

Slowly Hockaday’s philosophy and style is coming to the surface.

The Championship will test his squad sorely in 10 days’ time during a horrible first fixture away to Millwall and the proof of his pudding will be found in the division’s attempt to consume Leeds.

But Hockaday had the satisfaction of watching a team who looked like a team at the County Ground.

A shot of encouragement was long overdue.

Leeds are sending a team to Glenavon tonight, a friendly agreed as part of the signing of young striker Robbie McDaid, but yesterday’s visit to Swindon was the match of note, the penultimate friendly in the grand scheme of the summer.

By the time Dundee United come and go from Elland Road on Saturday, Hockaday’s biggest decisions will be made and his loyalty should sway towards the bulk of the side who played last night, new signings notwithstanding.

In the background and to the sound of a ticking clock, United are attacking the transfer market in slightly fraught style.

A deal for Roma playmaker Federico Viviani was tied up on Monday afternoon, at least in Massimo Cellino’s mind, but the 22-year-old’s agents told a slightly different story yesterday, claiming they were still to receive the documents they need to finalise a season-long loan from Roma.

So the wait for his arrival goes on.

Viviani has only one more friendly to play in before the season begins and is likely to go into the opening Championship game at Millwall cold unless Leeds can hasten his arrival from Italy in the next 48 hours.

The proposed signing of AC Milan’s Zan Benedicic – a silky, attacking midfielder of Slovenian descent – is also materialising late in the day and negotiations are continuing over a long-term loan to Elland Road.

If those two deals come off, Cellino and Hockaday are understood to be looking for three more players in specific positions – a striker and two centre-backs.

Hockaday’s line-ups have looked short of width throughout the summer but he tried again with a diamond midfield to better effect last night but the recruitment of out-and-out wingers does not appear to be on United’s agenda.

Chesterfield’s Liam Cooper, who played against Leeds in last Saturday’s friendly at the Proact Stadium, is one centre-back being credited with interest from Elland Road, and a vacancy in that position might soon develop at Leeds.

Tom Lees was included in Hockaday’s squad yesterday but he is understood to be the subject of a firm approach from Sheffield Wednesday.

After two hard years of confidence-sapping football, the former England Under-21 international is likely to depart before the new season kicks off.

Lees sat on the bench at the the County Ground, an environment in which Hockaday was able to feel comfortable and at home.

The longest stretch of his playing career was spent at Swindon and his years there coincided with a purple patch and two promotions under the management of Lou Macari.

It was doubtless that connection which convinced Swindon to upset Charlton by cancelling a long-arranged friendly to make way for a game against Leeds last night, much to Charlton’s annoyance.

Hockaday used what he called his strongest line-up in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Chesterfield but that line-up did not survive long.

Aidan White was injured and Matt Smith, Lewis Cook and Marco Silvestri dropped out of the side last night, making way for Tommaso Bianchi, Souleymane Doukara, Michael Tonge and Stuart Taylor.

How fixed Hockaday is on his team for Millwall on August 9 is for him to know.

Swindon’s line-up had an average age of 20 but they were exuberantly youthful, rather than lost.

There was a shared commitment to spreading the ball around and the first 15 minutes were an exhibition of measured, unadventurous passing. Leeds upped the ante first when Tonge drove Steve Morison’s knockdown against goalkeeper Wes Foderingham and Stephen Warnock rifled the rebound over the crossbar.

Those chances were a precursor to an opening goal which was immensely pleasing on the eye. Bianchi, who looked at home at the attacking tip of the diamond, played Doukara through with a cheeky flick of his heel and the striker’s cut-back gave Morison an easy tap-in.

It had to be Morison after the abuse showered on him by United’s supporters at Chesterfield 72 hours earlier.

Throughout the team, the cohesion and ability seemed unrecognisable.

Bianchi’s passing was more Pirlo than parlous and Doukara had the look of a different player: fitter, faster and sharper.

His 30-yard run a few minutes after Morison’s goal ended with a vicious shot which smashed against a post as Foderingham stood stationary in front of his line.

Swindon had their moments too and Nathan Thompson should have scored when Taylor and Warnock watched a floated pass without dealing with it, allowing the wing-back to lift a volley wide.

Andy Williams’ swinging cross in the 18th minute needed only the slightest of touches to carry it over the line.

When the chance came again, this time to Michael Smith on 31 minutes, he provided that finishing touch with a fine effort driven into the corner of Taylor’s net.

Leeds left him unmarked and incurred the consequences when Joshua Lelan rose to head down Yaser Kasim’s corner.

The Robins’ goalkeeper Foderingham, however, was saved by a post again before half-time, helpless as Jason Pearce rose to meet a corner created after more cutting passing between Bianchi, Byram and Tonge, and Leeds scored at the start of the second half with their third penalty in the space of four days on the road.

Bianchi read Doukara’s run and picked him out, forcing Foderingham to flatten the burly Frenchman at the edge of his box.

Former captain Rudy Austin, who scored twice from the penalty spot at Chesterfield on Saturday, did likewise with a similar finish, low and hard to the keeper’s right.

Leeds pressed Swindon for a while and then saw the win out, reverting to full-season mode.

They are fast approaching that time again and suddenly feeling much better about it.

Swindon Town: Foderingham, Lelan, Branco, Turnbull, N Thompson, Luongo (Randall 88), Kasim (Gladwin 69), L Thompson (Rodgers 68), Byrne, Smith (Waldon 79), Williams (Barker 12). Subs (not used): Antonio, Da Costa, Marshall, Jones.

Leeds United: S Taylor, Byram (Berardi 46), Pearce, Wootton, Warnock, Murphy, Tonge, Bianchi (Cook 80), Austin, Morison, Doukara (Smith 88). Subs (not used): Silvestri, Lees, Mowatt, Dawson.

Chris Wood controls a high ball against Fulham at Elland Road on Tuesday night. PIC: Bruce Rollinson

Leeds United: Midfielder Alioski’s backing striker Wood to weigh in with the goals