LEEDS UNITED captain Liam Cooper’s sending-off at Cardiff has re-opened the door for on loan Everton defender Matthew Pennington who impressed boss Thomas Christiansen on Tuesday night. Phil Hay reports.
A Scotland call-up arrived in the post on Monday and a red card followed on Tuesday night, reminding Liam Cooper that the race is never run. But the door which slammed in his face at Cardiff City has opened instead for Matthew Pennington, a light in the dull frustration of Leeds United’s second defeat of the season.
Cooper took an exemplary record to Cardiff, backing up the view that United’s captain has progressed as a player in the opening weeks of this season, but his dependable partnership with Pontus Jansson fell apart as Leeds leaked three goals and Cooper earned a first-half red card.
Prior to Tuesday’s 3-1 loss, he and Jansson had played five times together without conceding once.
The 26-year-old, who has been named by Gordon Strachan in Scotland’s squad for World Cup qualifiers against Slovakia and Slovenia in the coming fortnight, will serve a one-match ban when Leeds play Sheffield Wednesday on Sunday but a greater cost might be the threat posed to his place by a capable and eager replacement in Pennington.
The on-loan Everton centre-back spent most of the first month-and-a-half of the season recovering from an ankle ligament injury but Christiansen reintroduced him at the start of the second half on Tuesday and took encouragement from Pennington’s performance in a thankless scenario.
Leeds were 2-0 down and missing Cooper when Pennington took to the field and Cardiff picked Christiansen’s players off again with a tap-in from Kenneth Zohore on the hour but Pennington’s appearance assured head coach Thomas Christiansen of both his fitness and his suitability for Sunday’s Yorkshire derby at Hillsborough.
Christiansen has made much of the potential of 20-year-old defender Conor Shaughnessy this term but Sheffield Wednesday away and the hangover from a sore defeat like Tuesday’s might call for some additional nous as Cooper serves his time. Pennington caught the eye on his Leeds debut at Bolton Wanderers on August 6 but were injured after little more than an hour of that game and did not resume training until the middle of this month.
“We have to replace Liam but Pennington had a very good and serious game when he came in,” Christiansen said.
United’s head coach was as positive as he could realistically be about Leeds’ performance in the second half at Cardiff, quietly pleased that a team with reduced numbers made a fist of a game which was all but lost before the interval.
I said to the players that we had to go out in the second half with pride, knowing it would be difficult, and the team tried. They played better with 10.Leeds boss Thomas Christiansen
He defended his decision to shuffle his line-up by dropping Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Samuel Saiz – players with nine goals between them – and said the selection of Kemar Roofe as a lone centre forward was intended to increase United’s movement and counter Cardiff’s man-to-man marking. City, with Sol Bamba as a makeshift but highly impressive holding midfielder, read Leeds’ approach play easily and scored twice before the break through Zohore and man of the match Junior Hoilett. Roofe snatched a consolation by converting a deflected shot on 67 minutes.
“I wanted Roofe up front to give us a lot of mobility,” Christiansen said. “He’s the right guy to have in that position.
“The idea was to move Cardiff because they playing man-to-man everywhere on the pitch. We saw that, we knew that but we didn’t have the mobility we needed, especially in the first half. Two mistakes cost two goals.
“The second half was much better. That was what I expected from the first half but with one player less it was difficult.
“I said to the players that we had to go out in the second half with pride, knowing it would be difficult, and the team tried. They played better with 10. They moved more and they knew they had to because we had one player less. In that respect the response was perfect but it was not enough. We need 90 minutes like that.”
If Leeds felt bruised by Tuesday’s loss then they preparing to meet a club chastened by a defeat to Sheffield United in the first Steel City derby for more than five years.
Sheffield Wednesday’s manager, Carlos Carvalhal, has twice taken the club to the play-offs but came severe under pressure after a 4-2 loss last Sunday and fought his way through a fractious press conference before a 1-0 defeat at Birmingham City yesterday, railing against claims his side were “mentally weak” and screwing up a £20 note to demonstrate his view that the value of Wednesday’s squad was not diminished by one painful beating.
Carvalhal’s side are 14th in the table, seven points behind Leeds, and were caught with a defence in disarray against Sheffield United. Leeds, after six consecutive Championship clean sheets, have leaked six goals in three matches but Christiansen claimed United had inspired their own collapse at Cardiff, setting the tone with a slip from Mateusz Klich which began the move leading to Zohore’s opener.
Cardiff moved to the top of the table on Tuesday, replacing Leeds in first place, and Christiansen said: “They’re a good team and this is why they are where they are but if you put them into the game without them doing anything, it’s easier.
“On Sunday we have to focus on the opponent, concentrate on what they do and change this result.”