Leeds United opportunity missed in cup game that won't sway Jesse Marsch - Graham Smyth's Verdict

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The last time Leeds United played at Molineux they were indebted to Jesse Marsch's leadership council for the 3-2 victory.

Rodrigo and Luke Ayling scored the goals that completed a comeback from 2-0 down and fellow council members Stuart Dallas, Adam Forshaw, Rodrigo and Patrick Bamford joined them in the starting line-up. So much was riding on it that Marsch's selection of Ayling, along with Diego Llorente, Jack Harrison and Mateusz Klich was no surprise whatsoever.

Then, in the midst of a relegation battle, the quartet were automatic picks for the recently-installed head coach. If they were fit, they played. The same could be said of their selection for the midweek Carabao Cup tie at Wolves, but for very different reasons. So much has changed in the landscape of the Leeds squad since last season that a starting place is no longer a reasonable expectation for players once considered shoo-ins.

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For Ayling, Llorente and Klich, their place in the side starting this visit to Molineux was more strategic than strictly necessary, in order to give them match minutes and the players ahead of them - Rasmus Kristensen, Robin Koch and Tyler Adams respectively - a night off. For Harrison, the only survivor from the line-up who welcomed Bournemouth to Elland Road the weekend prior, his presence said as much about his recent struggle for form as the pressure being exerted upon him of late by Willy Gnonto.

The teenage Italian international's role in Crysencio Summerville's winners against Liverpool and the Cherries have put him on a crash course with a first Premier League start that could well come on Saturday at Spurs.

What Marsch was looking for from a team that included four Under 21s, was for someone to stake a claim just as aggressively as Gnonto with something special in the cup tie. What Leeds fans were looking for was the kind of cup run that has eluded their club for too many years, and why shouldn't it be one of the season priorities? With just one Premier League game remaining before a 46-day break, and a chance to carry on the momentum generated by two league wins on the trot, Wolves away had a whiff of opportunity about it.

How seriously Marsch was taking the competition was not so much called into question by the starting line-up, which boasted sufficient experience, but a distinctly Under 21s bench. And even if the line-up was, in the head coach's estimation, good enough to win the game, the problem with making 10 changes with a squad this size is that you end up with a team made up of players who are a little rusty and others who are a little green, which in turn, makes the something special you're looking for that little bit more elusive.

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Leeds set about their task well enough, with a period of early pressure. Harrison came close to a second minute opener with a deflected free-kick that Matija Sarkic had to palm round his post for the first of four consecutive corners. The last of them produced a fine Leo Hjelde header and an even better save from the Wolves keeper.

BIG CHANGES - Leeds United head coach Jesse Marsch made 10 changes for the Carabao Cup game at Wolverhampton Wanderers. Pic: GettyBIG CHANGES - Leeds United head coach Jesse Marsch made 10 changes for the Carabao Cup game at Wolverhampton Wanderers. Pic: Getty
BIG CHANGES - Leeds United head coach Jesse Marsch made 10 changes for the Carabao Cup game at Wolverhampton Wanderers. Pic: Getty

There were some nice moments in possession from Marsch's side, Klich finding plenty to busy himself with in both halves of the pitch and youngsters Darko Gyabi, Sonny Perkins and Mateo Joseph finding plenty of early involvement. There was also, as one might expect, some carelessness, a few errant or ill-judged passes that had Wolves sniffing blood, without creating too much in the way of danger.

Adama Traore's duel with Junior Firpo looked like the hosts' best chance of hurting their visitors and it was the winger who drilled Wolves' first real chance just wide of Joel Robles' far post.

Leeds' early promise soon gave way to Wolves dominance, the play concentrated in the middle third and in Leeds' defensive third barring a nice move or two from Marsch's men. It wasn't a thrilling affair by any stretch and the half-time break only injected a measure of energy to the early second half proceedings.

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It began with Wolves' best opening and a first real test for Joel Robles, who passed with flying colours, saving from Max Kilman with his legs after the Whites were briefly cut open.

Leeds themselves came close, Harrison flashing a ball across the face of goal, and as the game temporarily opened up Robles was called into action again, saving magnificently from Connor Ronan's flicked volley and then setting Leeds off on the counter, Joseph haring clear only to be caught as he reached the area.

Harrison was having one of those games, running into blind alleys and taking one too many touches but he very nearly found the opener with a fine curling effort from the right hand corner of the area.

As the second half developed what stood out, in the absence of real quality or excitement, was how even a contest it was.

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In the end something special did decide who progressed to the fourth round, but Wolves substitute Boubacar Traore was the man to produce it. Leeds lost the ball on the left, Daniel Podence cut it back perfectly and Traore curled home an absolute beauty from the edge of the area.

Coming in the 84th minute as it did, the goal left Leeds with little time to respond in kind and though they huffed and puffed in the final stages, they were held at arm's length by a Wolves side energised by Traore's wonderstrike.

Exiting the competition and losing that prospect of a competitive fixture prior to Christmas were the big negatives for the club as a whole and the squandered chance to make a statement to the manager was the big negative for a handful of individuals. The obvious technical ability of the youngsters on display and how well the side coped with Wolves for so long, at least give Marsch some positives with which to roll into the weekend.

But with the whiff of opportunity dispersed, the wait for a cup run will go on and Leeds will return to porridge on Saturday when Marsch will pick a team informed by what he saw in midweek but, in all likelihood, not unexpectedly swayed by it.