There was a game at York City last night but against a National League North club and with a squad flooded with Under-23s it was no match for the attention on Leeds United’s trials in the transfer market.
As July rolls on, it is there that Leeds need big wins and a performance teeing up the season to come.
There were several hints at a big window from Leeds earlier in the summer - the bold and expensive employment of Marcelo Bielsa as head coach, the millions of pounds injected by the investment arm of the San Francisco 49ers in May and various comments from the club’s hierarchy – but the August 9 deadline for permanent signings is lurking in the minds of everyone with a vested interest in making Bielsa’s tenure work. No suggestion of panic, yet, but outside pressure aplenty.
Two loans signings as of July 20 amounts to a meagre change to the squad at Elland Road, as two friendlies this week have shown, and Leeds are stuck in cycle of negotiations showing promise before players and agents slip out the door. What started with Abel Hernandez and Matej Vydra continued yesterday with Brentford winger Florian Jozefzoon, a target who is poised to sign a long and lucrative contract at Derby County.
United were drawn into discussions over Jozefzoon at late notice, only to find that he was heading to Pride Park all along. They moved on yesterday within hours of Brentford granting permission to speak to him.
On the table at Elland Road, the list of positions Bielsa wants to address remains a substantial one: a centre-forward, a midfielder, a full-back and a winger. What the 62-year-old makes of the progress so far is hard to say. He has not spoken in public since his very first press conference on June 25 and is well known for expecting clubs to meet his wishes, though he looked suitably relaxed chatting at length to two Argentinian compatriots in the main stand before yesterday’s 1-1 draw at Bootham Crescent.
Bielsa made Leeds a promise to improve the players he inherited but two friendlies in the space of 48 hours have made his squad look more starved than lean.
There are others to come into it – Pontus Jansson after the World Cup, Jamal Blackman when Bielsa decides to introduce the goalkeeper after his loan from Chelsea and Tyler Roberts when he convinces everyone that he is fit to play – but having taken 11 senior players to Forest Green on Tuesday, there were no more than five who fell into that category last night.
Bielsa has a reputation, and a will, for tapping into the academies of the clubs he works at and there is ample talent in United’s in the form of players like Jamie Shackleton and Ryan Edmondson but Under-23s are more than making up the numbers in pre-season.
Alongside them last night, Lewis Baker made his first appearance since arriving from Stamford Bridge and the inclusion of Mateusz Klich and Yosuke Ideguchi indicated that they, for now, have survived the ongoing cull of surplus footballers at Thorp Arch.
Ronaldo Vieira and Tom Pearce, despite their formative years, provided some additional nous in a side devoid of one central defender.
Jon Parkin – infamously described as “unplayable” by Darren Ferguson on the night of Preston North End’s 6-4 win at Elland Road in 2011 – was named on the bench and denied the chance to reprise that display from the start.
Leeds were plainly ordered to play out from the back but York’s direct football coupled with the flimsy nature of United’s defence gave City the whip hand for most of the first half-hour.
Kamil Miazek, Bielsa’s young Polish keeper, had already dived to repel two goalbound efforts when York’s trialist centre-back nodded in a free header on 24 minutes, unimpeded as Sean Newton hooked a corner into the box.
Leeds settled slowly before finding some rhythm late in the first half. Shackleton saw their best chance but was met by the onrushing Adam Bartlett as he tried to chip a finish over him seconds before half-time.
Bielsa made three changes at the break, bringing on Sam Dalby and Hugo Diaz and replacing Miazek in goal with Will Huffer, and Huffer was called into action quickly, parrying a point-blank effort from Jordan Burrow and watching Langstaff crack the rebound off the underside of his crossbar.
But Dalby levelled on 58 minutes when Klich rattled York’s bar with a strike from long range, leaving the young forward to prod a tap-in into an unprotected net.
Leeds teased York as the last half-hour ran out, without forcing a winner, and the friendly felt in the main like a chance for Bielsa to begin deciding which of his fringe players will fit around the front-line members of his squad this season.
It seems less imperative than the matter of who will join the front line from the confines of the transfer market.
York City: Bartlett, Griffiths (Wright 60), Newton, Bencherif, Trialist (Parslow 46), Penn (Moke 60), York (Steels 65), Heslop, Burrow (Parkin 60), Kempster (Ferguson 60), Langstaff (Law 60). Sub (not used): Whitley.
Leeds United: Miazek (Huffer 46), De Bock, Klich, Vieira, Shackleton, Ideguchi, Baker, Stevens (Dalby 46), Pearce, Clarke, Edmondson (Diaz 46). Sub (not used): Rey.