After a goal-scoring debut to remember, Scott Wootton knows he has given Brian Mcdermott a selection dilemma. Phil Hay reports.
After a near-flawless debut comes the long wait. Scott Wootton cannot be sure if the teamsheet for Leeds United’s game against Queens Park Rangers will include his name but he knows that an assured outing at Doncaster Rovers gave his manager a mathematical problem.
A little over a week ago Brian McDermott was fretting about the absence of a spare centre-back in his squad. With Wootton’s debut fresh in his mind, the concern for United’s coach now is which of his options to drop. Three central defenders into a backline of four do not go, as Wootton himself can see.
Tom Lees and Jason Pearce carried Leeds through their opening five games without defeat but Wootton, the former Manchester United player, made a lasting impression in a Capital One Cup victory at Doncaster. Watched by members of his family and a large away crowd, a first-half goal and a calm performance created what he called a “very special moment.”
Nonetheless, the 21-year-old will accept McDermott’s decision with good grace if he returns to the bench for QPR’s visit to Elland Road. Deep down, he almost expects to. He saw Lees and Pearce play their part in a 2-1 win over Ipswich Town last weekend – a rare United victory at Portman Road – and magnanimously admitted that the pair would be “disappointed” to see themselves named as substitutes in 48 hours’ time.
“Obviously it’s the manager’s decision,” Wootton said. “Tom and Jason both had great games at Ipswich but we’re all playing well and competition can only be healthy.
“I’d like to think I’ve done myself no harm but at the same time, Tom and Jason had great games at the weekend. It’s up to the manager but I think they’ll be disappointed if they lose their places after a 2-1 away win at Ipswich.
“But I’m happy with how I played and hopefully it’ll give the manager something to think about.”
United’s second-round tie at Doncaster was a night of firsts. Eighteen-year-old midfielder Alex Mowatt also made his competitive debut and striker Matt Smith claimed his first Leeds goal in a convincing 3-1 win.
McDermott prefers not to talk about which players are in and which are out – speaking religiously about the “importance of the whole group” – but a team showing six changes from Ipswich gave him decisions to make. Moreover, he is in the refreshing position of having more players in form than he can fit in his line-up.
“I look at it slightly differently,” McDermott said. “I look at it as me having a group of 20-odd people who are all going the same way and supporting each other. I’ve always had that philosophy. “But you need options and that’s the only way you can be successful and win games. I’ve got options at the moment.”
McDermott’s choice of centre-backs is likely to be his biggest call on Saturday. For all Wootton’s praise of Lees and Pearce, United were less than watertight at Ipswich and have been vulnerable to cheap concessions throughout the first month of the season. It’s a minor complaint after a six-game unbeaten run but the availability of Wootton following his transfer to Leeds from Old Trafford last week offers a different tact.
United’s evening at Doncaster was blotted slightly by Billy Paynter’s second-half equaliser – a free header at the back post – but it said much about McDermott’s squad that a Leeds team showing numerous alterations outclassed a Doncaster side which was virtually full strength.
Asked about Wootton, McDermott said: “He got better as the game went on. He can use the ball and he knows how to defend. He’s going to be a great asset.”
Wootton was equally pleased with his debut, saying: “It was a very special moment. I want to be a Leeds United player for a long time and to make my debut was great.
“To cap it off with a goal and a decent performance – I’m delighted with that.
“My mum, my grandad and my uncle were there to watch and I’m sure they were happy too. They come to most games. My dad works away but whenever he’s home he always comes – wherever it is, all over the country.
“You obviously get a few nerves before games and with it being my debut I wanted to make more of an impression. I was probably a little bit nervous but I feel good now and I’m happy.”
Like McDermott, Wootton opted to share praise around afterwards, calling Mowatt “brilliant” and describing Smith as a “massive handful”. “I thought Alex was absolutely brilliant,” he said. “You’d never have guessed it was his debut. He was so calm on the ball and showed a lot of confidence, with some great forward passes. I’m sure he’ll be absolutely delighted with how he played.
“Matt’s a massive handful and a great outlet for us. Any time we were under pressure the ball stuck to him and he won his headers. I’m glad he’s in our team.
“Two wins from two away games in a week we’d have taken all day long. We feel like we are on a good roll – unbeaten in six with two back-to-back away wins. We don’t fear many clubs at the moment. We showed at Doncaster that we’ve got a good squad and there’s a great mood in the camp at the moment. All the lads are buzzing. It’s a really good place to be.”
The resources available to McDermott are barely comparable to those on offer to QPR manager Harry Redknapp. Leeds will meet the most expensive team in the Championship on Saturday and a side who are already striking out for automatic promotion after taking 10 points from four matches.
“It’s a massive game against a big club who’ve spent a hell of a lot of money,” Wootton said. “They’re favourites to go up.”