A new No 9, defensive frailties and Joe Gelhardt gets the Everton treatment - Leeds United Under-23s talking points

Leeds United's Under-23s returned to Premier League 2 action on Monday night at Everton following the October international break.

By Joe Urquhart
Tuesday, 19th October 2021, 12:55 pm

The Whites, though, endured a difficult evening in Southport after racing into a two goal lead against the Toffees thanks to goals from Amari Miller and Sam Greenwood.

Mark Jackson watched on from the sidelines as his squad conceded four unanswered goals, slipping to a third defeat in a row across all competitions.

Here, we take a look at some of the key talking points from the 4-2 loss...

Leeds United Under-23s head coach Mark Jackson. Pic: Getty

Shape, shape, shape

As is often the case with Leeds United's Under-23s when the team sheet arrived in the press box there was some working out to do.

Under Marcelo Bielsa at Thorp Arch players are demanded to have two positions in their armoury - most of which is learned in the development ranks for the academy youngsters.

At Everton, regular number one Kristoffer Klaesson had a centre-back pairing of captain Charlie Cresswell and Nohan Kenneh in front of him.

Kris Moore and Leo Hjelde were chosen as wing-backs - away from their more natural home of central defence - while Jack Jenkins and Lewis Bate were the No 6 and No 8 in midfield.

Crysencio Summerville and Sean McGurk started as wingers with Sam Greenwood put into the 10 by Jackson - leaving Amari Miller to lead the attack up front.

It felt somewhat makeshift without actually being that way for the Whites.

Hjelde and Moore have played on the defensive flanks before and Greenwood is a regular as the creator - though sometimes small tweaks can go a long way to forcing a team to become disjointed.

Miller was a capable No 9 but struggled to hold the ball up which caused Leeds problems in the opening period.

There is no doubt that results are not the be all and end all at academy level but they do breed confidence.

Leeds will always get players on the pitch - in their favoured position or not - though on occasion it can be detrimental to the overall outcome, which is what a disappointing result felt like.

Stuart McKinstry, Joe Gelhardt and Cody Drameh all stepped into the game in planned half-time substitutions to little effect.

A new No 9 with Greenwood at 10

Amari Miller has played entirely in his natural home as a winger since joining the club in the summer from Birmingham City.

That was, though, until Monday night when the 18-year-old emerged from the tunnel in the No 9 shirt.

A few eyebrows were raised - especially with Greenwood on the pitch, who is one of the best finishers in the Under-23s ranks.

The former Arsenal product has been moved into a 10 role behind leading man Joe Gelhardt, though without Joffy starting it felt like an opportunity to give him another chance as a striker.

As it turned out, both Miller and Greenwood found the back of the net in the first half and Jackson explained his reasoning post-match.

"Sam in that No.10 position, he's really growing into it," he told the YEP.

"Players need to play multiple positions, we know that and it just felt right that in the first half with the personnel we had on the pitch, we thought it would be more [impactful] to have Amari as a 9 and Sam making them runs forward.

"He [Greenwood] got his goal from arriving late into the box, so like I say there were elements to our play which we executed well in the first half. That was the reasoning and the thinking behind it."

Defensive frailties

One clean sheet for Leeds in eight PL2 games makes for tricky reading.

The Whites have found the back of the net an impressive 20 times since promotion to the top tier of academy football but have conceded on 18 occasions also.

Mark Jackson said his side needed to be ruthless in and out of possession and become more "streetwise" after the Everton defeat.

United were stretched at times, committing to their attacking style - which led to two of the goals against - but left themselves far too open while a simple corner provided the undoing before a stroke of bad luck played a part in another through a huge deflection.

Unfamiliarity with new positions may not help but across the board Leeds will be working hard to keep the ball out of Kristoffer Klaesson's net - the Norwegian shot stopper has had a busy time at the back since joining the ranks.

Joffy gets the Everton treatment

Within 10 seconds of stepping off the bench at half-time Gelhardt was left in a heap on the floor.

The rest of his night followed a similar pattern, as the Toffees clearly identified him as the dangerman ahead of the game.

Whenever Gelhardt took a touch there were two defenders waiting and it might be something he has to get used to as he continues to make waves at youth level.

United failed to get him involved and on the one occasion they did he almost opened up the Everton backline though Miller could only shoot over.

A chance to put it right

Leeds face a quick turnaround this week which Jackson and his squad will be thankful for.

United return to action on Friday night at York as they host Brighton & Hove Albion in the PL2.

The Whites will be hoping to return to winning ways on home soil - having gone over a month without a league victory.