Leeds United big guns rested but bold young gun trio take their shot - Graham Smyth's Verdict

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They were queuing down the road to see Jesse Marsch’s Leeds United at York in the first public friendly of pre-season.

The clamour to get into the grandly named City of York Council’s LNER Stadium was more to do with organisational issues than Whites fever, but curiosity will be a theme this summer.

Even without the new international stars signed as part of Victor Orta’s rebuild, there were more than enough reasons to give the game against Blackpool a watch.

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As summer arrivals Brenden Aaronson, Luis Sinisterra, Rasmus Kristensen and Tyler Adams looked on from the stand, their fellow new boy Marc Roca anchored a midfield next to a 16-year-old who has already captured the imagination of the club’s fanbase. Archie Gray got a start, having caught the eye not only of the senior professionals in the early days of pre-season, but Marsch too.

Next week’s tour in Australia will give the multi-million pound men a chance to introduce themselves, this was an opportunity for youngsters like Gray, Sam Greenwood and Cody Drameh to show they’re worth including in the masterplan for Marsch’s first full campaign in charge.

The chance was not being taken lightly, either, all three desperate to get involved from the off, pressing Blackpool, making tackles and getting on the ball at every opportunity.

It was the seniors who combined for the opener, though, Jack Harrison’s quickly-taken free-kick allowing Junior Firpo to slide the ball across for Robin Koch to sneak in at the back post and score.

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Harrison and Firpo combined for the second, too, midway through the first half, the former’s near-post corner headed in by the latter.

YOUNG GUN - Archie Gray, at just 16, showed Jesse Marsch he's champing at the bit for a shot at the big guns. Pic: Jonathan Gawthorpe.YOUNG GUN - Archie Gray, at just 16, showed Jesse Marsch he's champing at the bit for a shot at the big guns. Pic: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
YOUNG GUN - Archie Gray, at just 16, showed Jesse Marsch he's champing at the bit for a shot at the big guns. Pic: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

The third, on the half hour, didn’t much flatter Leeds.

A half-cleared corner came to Gray, who hooked the ball back over his head and those of the onrushing Blackpool defenders, allowing striker Joe Gelhardt to control, sort out his feet and tee up Rodrigo to roof the finish.

Leeds were comfortable, only Josh Bowler’s runs past Firpo causing any real consternation.

The 4-2-3-1 allowed Leeds’ midfield to fold back in and pack central areas if Blackpool took play into the hosts’ half, meaning keeper Illan Meslier had just one smart stop to make before being withdrawn at the break.

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He was one of four to depart after 45 minutes, Marsch sending on another quartet of young hopefuls in Kristoffer Klaesson, Jeremiah Mullen, Leif Davis and Amari Miller.

The hour mark brought six more changes and although veteran midfielder Adam Forshaw brought the average age up a little, the other quintet sent it right back down the other way again.

Blackpool had changed their entire side at half-time, so a struggle for rhythm was expected from the game but Leeds took an even firmer grip on things and kept play in the opposing half. Forshaw allowed Gray to get forward a little more until the 16-year-old was replaced by Charlie Allen, and Sean McGurk was perhaps the pick of the second half subs, although Mateo Joseph was bright up top and Mullen composed at the back.

The game sparked back to life late on, Klaesson making a fine save from Shayne Lavery and Joseph added a fourth, via a deflection, following a nice flick from Allen and Jamie Shackleton’s cut-back.

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It was comfortable in the end and there will be much tougher tests to come before the season gets underway – Aston Villa and Crystal Palace should see to that – but a win, a handful of goals and an absence of injuries made this another box ticked.

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That Gray played more minutes than any other man in the 22-strong squad spoke volumes, before Marsch talked his prodigious teenage talent up even further at full-time. Gray ‘will play’ this season according to the head coach, who liked what he saw at York. The head coach was more than content to play the young man from the big Leeds United family in the deeper midfield role and then shift him forward as more of an attacking midfielder. Gray, he said, can do it all, from six to eight to 10.

His genetics give him an obvious advantage but his edge is pure personality. Gray uses his size well and, in time, will become horrible to play against. He’s already fun to watch.

Others caught the eye too and it will not have escaped Marsch’s attention that Greenwood, a constant pest, was spotting killer passes, if not always making them. And Drameh, at right-back, proved as nightmarish to bypass against Championship opposition as he did in the 23s, the season before last. It feels like there’s a chance for him, at Leeds, and he just has to take it.

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Concrete conclusions cannot set after such scant pre-season action but at least, if nothing else, Marsch has had a healthy dose of reassurance that his young guns are champing at the bit to take a shot at the big boys.