Drawing entertainment from the earliest pre-season friendlies requires imagination on the part of the spectators in attendance.
A small number passed the opening 90 seconds of last night’s game between Leeds United and Falkirk by aiming insults at an absent Alan Smith.
The midfielder is persona non grata among an undefined number of United’s supporters but, on the evidence of the club’s first appearance of the summer, Leeds cannot afford to be so choosy.
Their manager, Simon Grayson, might argue otherwise but the honest view of his resources in Falkirk was that he is a handful of players short of a convincing Championship team and a further handful short of a fully-loaded squad.
It should not come as a newsflash to the thousands in Leeds who have followed the close-season with a degree of nervousness.
Whether Smith will be part of the answer to many quiet prayers is, as yet, unconfirmed – one bookmaker shortened odds on his return to a significantly slim price on Tuesday – but the purpose of United’s friendlies in Scotland, predominantly fitness exercises for players who turned out yesterday for the first time since May 7, is in keeping with the state of Grayson’s existing squad.
More recruitment will be necessary before he can turn his mind to settling his defence, establishing his midfield and bringing together the pieces in front of him. For all the inactivity at Elland Road, the strands of an agreeable line-up remain, lacking still a sense of completion.
Grayson was treated to an easy victory over Falkirk, though his attitude at this time of the year is never to bother with results that are not spectacularly good or depressingly bad. An own goal conceded late in the first half helped Leeds put their hosts in their place during a game which often proceeded at a canter.
With time against him and the summer receding, Grayson sought encouragement from his existing players last night and found it in certain quarters.
Ramon Nunez – the hitherto untested Honduran international – showed the quickest feet in a rusty first half and teased a break in the deadlock before his shift ended at the interval. Robert Snodgrass extended United’s lead in the 57th minute, leaving no doubt about the outcome and ensuring a satisfactory start to a critical period of preparation.
It is a bonus for Grayson that in nine-and-a-half weeks of English transfers, Snodgrass has not been among them.
Grayson’s philosophy in previous pre-seasons guaranteed that he would throw his entire squad at yesterday’s fixture, but a glut of injuries narrowed his choice of players.
Davide Somma sat at home with a knee injury while his colleagues prepared themselves, and Luciano Becchio and Andy O’Brien gave in to injuries on the morning of the game.
They were minor inconveniences, the like of which Grayson would find more unhelpful in three weeks’ time.
All three are known quantities in his mind but last night’s friendly was a chance to gently blood Michael Brown and Paul Rachubka, the only signings confirmed by Leeds in the past two months.
Significant too were the 63 minutes negotiated by Patrick Kisnorbo, signed four days earlier to a two-year contract in spite of his protracted recovery from a mangled Achilles tendon. Minus his distinctive headband, Falkirk failed to stretch him at all.
Rachubka, as the only senior goalkeeper taken north by Grayson, was one of six players asked to complete more than an hour in Falkirk.
His save after 12 minutes, diving to smother Kallum Higginbotham’s scuffed shot, was an easy starter for an experienced professional but Rachubka looked less comfortable beneath the header from Stephen Kingsley that looped beyond his far post 12 minutes later and the volley from Ally Graham which struck his crossbar before half-time.
In response, Leeds were largely speculative. Nunez cleared Falkirk’s bar with a swing of his right foot and a Robert Snodgrass’ free-kick sank into the side-netting.
Billy Paynter’s failure to meet a curling cross wasted the best delivery produced by Snodgrass from the right wing.
On account of his first season at Leeds, Paynter’s need for goals might be more pronounced than any other player at Elland Road but an early finish eluded him when he broke clear and pulled the ball wide of Michael McGovern’s net.
Lloyd Sam outwitted Falkirk’s keeper two minutes later but saw Rhys Bennett arrive to lash his toe-poke away from a vacant goalline.
In those moments, the game found some welcome rhythm. Graham shook Rachubka’s bar in the absence of a marker and Nunez forced the opening goal in the 36th minute when he tempted Tam Scobbie to stretch out a leg and stab the ball into his own net.
Grayson retired five players at half-time, sparing Brown and Nunez among others, and the addition of Jonathan Howson to the centre of his midfield brought energy with it.
Snodgrass converted an unmarked header when he met Sam’s cross in the 57th minute and Sam ought to have done likewise after Snodgrass returned the favour.
His tame attempt fell kindly into McGovern’s hands and the keeper was helped soon after by a foot on his goalline as Leigh Bromby worked the ball towards the corner of Falkirk’s net.
Grayson could find little fault to pick, and the limp which briefly forced Max Gradel from the pitch created short-lived concern nine minutes from time.
His manager can only hope that West Ham United do not force a more permanent exit.
Falkirk: McGovern, Duffie, Scobbie, Dods (Wallace 81), Bennett, Murdoch (J Fulton 74), Alston (Winters 66), Millar (D Fulton 74), Graham (McManus 66), Higginbotham, Kingsley (Sibbald 52). Subs (not used): Flynn, Bowman.
Leeds United: Rachubka (Cairns 63), Connolly (Bromby 46), Kisnorbo (Lees 63), Lees (Bruce 46), Parker (White 46), Snodgrass (Thompson 63), Clayton (N Turner 63), Brown (Howson 46), Sam (L Turner 63), Paynter (Gradel 46), Nunez (McCormack 46).
Referee: Craig Charleston.
Attendance: 2,065 (772 Leeds).