Leeds United 'leadership council' shows its agenda in Wolves chaos - Graham Smyth's Verdict

Jesse Marsch didn't create the leadership group at Leeds United, it pre-dated him, he's just given it a name.

By Graham Smyth
Saturday, 19th March 2022, 4:40 am

What the American has done, however, by naming the seven in his 'leadership council' is put a little more onus on those players to dig Leeds out of a hole. And at Wolves, that's exactly what they did.

Two of them, captain Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips, are itching to help and after the international break will be expected to play a significant part in the Premier League run-in. There's little doubt that they will strengthen Marsch's hand, not least defensively, but neither got on at Molineux.

Cooper was the obvious first appointee to the council as the man holding the armband and including Phillips, who has admitted on a number of occasions that he's not one of the big voices in the changing room, is a smart move, clearly designed to make him feel every bit as influential as he should be, as an England regular and top Premier League operator. He's also a Leeds lad and brings an understanding of the club, its history and the mood of the fanbase to the meetings with Marsch. If the head coach ever wanted to tap into the Leeds psyche, there are few better sources of insight than the boy from Armley.

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Others, like Adam Forshaw, Stuart Dallas, Luke Ayling and Patrick Bamford, have led by example for years at Thorp Arch and helped change the culture in the squad.

Rodrigo, the council's sole foreign representative, is the most interesting addition, however. His time at Elland Road has not always been a happy one and before Marsch's arrival it would have been easy to see a parting of company in the summer, a return to Spain perhaps to a team more suited to his abilities.

Marsch thinks Rodrigo is important, though, and regardless of whether that's for the long term or just the next couple of months, he wants the Spaniard to feel a big part of the new regime.

The pair had a heart-to-heart after the Villa game, which brought atrocious performances from both Rodrigo and the team, and the player that emerged to face Norwich City looked a different one.

LEADER'S GOAL - Luke Ayling scored a dramatic late winner for Leeds United against 10-man Wolves at Molineux. Pic: Bruce Rollinson

At Wolves, he joined Ayling in dragging Leeds back from the brink, in scenes that were as wild as they were wholly unexpected with the hosts 2-0 up and coasting at the break.

It was not a good first half for so many reasons.

Rodrigo struggled to get into it early on, losing his first possession in the same manner that provoked such frustration and ire from fans against Villa, then steering Daniel James' near post cross outside the upright.

Daniel Podence quickly established himself as the main man for Wolves, pulling the strings from deep to allow them to play through Leeds' press and then threatening to take advantage of sloppy play from Diego Llorente before Forshaw saved the day.

Bruno Lage's men were playing some lovely stuff, trying to exploit all the space left out wide by the visitors' system, but chances were coming at the other end as Leeds picked off passes. The best of them, in the opening quarter of an hour, fell to Bamford who drove into the box and shot wastefully wide.

That was the striker's last effort before he limped off on 23 minutes, appearing to succumb to the foot injury from which he had only just returned. It was too bitter a blow for Bamford to take, tears streaking his face on the bench as Cooper, ever the leader, put an arm around him.

From there the half steadily worsened for Marsch, who watched his side concede another two of those painfully avoidable goals.

The opener was soft, Wolves simply getting the ball in behind Dallas and cutting it back to the unmarked Jonny to stroke home.

A back problem forced Llorente off, Koch taking his place and swiftly being introduced to the action by Raul Jimenez' late challenge, which earned a yellow card.

Leeds had a let off when Trincao struck the post and again when Jimenez squandered a great chance, their system creaking badly.

The loss of Klich didn't help, his cheek swelling grotesquely after a clash of heads with Koch, bringing Charlie Cresswell into the fray as a concussion sub.

Eleven minutes into first half stoppage time, Wolves doubled their lead, getting in on the right once more with a quick free-kick, Trincao the man to finish off the cut-back on this occasion.

A 56 minute and 25 second half finally came to an end leaving Leeds to lick their wounds before emerging for a second half that proved every bit as chaotic.

Jimenez hammered into Meslier to earn his second yellow card and leave the keeper in agony, Kristoffer Klaesson coming on for his first team debut in the most pressured of circumstances. But referee Kevin Friend's decision to give Jimenez his marching orders, one that incensed Lage and his staff, gave Leeds a glimmer of hope.

It took 10 minutes for the numerical advantage matter, but it did, crucially, when Koch swung the ball right to put Ayling in the area and after the post and a goal-line clearance denied him, Harrison rifled in the second rebound. The goal gave them more than hope, it was a foothold, and Wolves were wobbling.

Just three minutes later James hit the crossbar from an Ayling cross and when the ball came down, Greenwood did enough to help it to Rodrigo and he steered home from an acute angle. Leadership comes in many forms but his goals in each of the last two games may prove worth their weight in gold and you can tell from his body language that he really wants it, right now. He was snarling at team-mates and barking orders in a way we've not seen too often since his summer 2020 arrival. The quality has not always shown, but in Leeds' time of need, his desire is evident.

The worry for Leeds was that in the build up to the goal Dallas was poleaxed by Moutinho, who somehow escaped punishment, and the Ulsterman was in visible pain. But he showed the kind of leadership Leeds have come to expect from him. This season has brought injuries for almost every single one of the Leeds squad and Dallas is no exception, yet he's started every single league game. Grimacing, hobbling, on he played.

On Leeds attacked, too. James was denied from a couple of yards, Harrison had a beauty saved and Struijk headed over. But they were not to be denied. A free-kick wasn't cleared, Struijk got a touch and Ayling, who else, drilled it in to send the away end wild and Leeds' subs racing across the pitch. The right-back has previous for big goals and getting the bit between his teeth when it's most needed in big games. Leadership.

There was time yet for Klaesson to provide heroics and the two benches to get into a scuffle, Phillips on the frontline giving as good as he got, before the full-time whistle made all the pain they had individually and collectively suffered at Molineux well worth it.

Few gave Leeds a chance of three points against a side eyeing the European spots. No one gave them a chance of scoring three times. At half-time, this result was simply inconceivable given the scoreline, the injuries and the ease with which Wolves were picking them apart. The red card helped, but Leeds, at long last, helped themselves too.

Two wins in a row have created a buffer - a seven-point one no less - between the Whites and the relegation zone. Marsch was brought in to lead the club to safety and if the Norwich win was big, this one was colossal. They may not yet have mastered his tactics and the manner of these victories has been far from comfortable, yet in chaos this team and its leaders have always found a way to survive.