With one friendly down, Garry Monk left Tolka Park last night with ticks in all the relevant boxes. No injuries, no failures, a goal for one of his signings and a tidy win over Shelbourne as a result.
Leeds United’s head coach will read as little as he can into one meeting with a club in Ireland’s second division but if areas of his squad look short, their preparation for Tolka Park did not. Playful chants of ‘we are going up’ began after Leeds put the game to bed inside 14 minutes.
Their football was fit and fluent – neat enough to give Shelbourne very little – and as starts go the match in Dublin gave Monk no pressing cause for concern.
He needs signings before the new season starts and strength in positions which are obviously weak but last night’s game set a good tone.
Souleymane Doukara got a grip of it early, scoring with the night’s first chance, and Hadi Sacko – the French winger signed on a prayer and season’s loan from Sporting Lisbon last week – tucked away another opportunity five minutes later.
Shelbourne have a league fixture ahead of them on Saturday afternoon and the hastily-arranged meeting with Leeds suddenly lost its appeal. Only once did United offer a way back in, when Adam Evans found the net at the start of the second half.
If Monk has a philosophy or an “identity” as he calls it then it looked at first sight like a willingness to not only pass the ball but to pass it forward and pass with intent; to put possession at risk, as managers like to say. Shelbourne forced a handful of openings but Leeds had other chances and the brighter United players were some who needed to be – Alex Mowatt and Luke Murphy in particular.
Mowatt’s role in Sacko’s goal was more like the 2014-15 season than his last.
Massimo Cellino was among those present at Tolka Park; relaxed, smiling and unmoved by two fans who told United’s owner to ‘f*** off’ as they walked past him in the first half.
There was no real vitriol in Dublin but rather the optimism which generates naturally at this time of year. Weak as the opposition were, the first sight of Leeds under Monk will have gone down well.
Holed up in Ireland for two weeks, United’s players were doubtless desperate for the release of a game by the time it came.
Monk put them through a training session yesterday morning, allowing no break in the intensity of pre-season, but the strain was felt on both sides.
Shelbourne hosted Swindon Town in a separate friendly on Tuesday night, shunting the games together after a late request from Leeds and while Leeds turn out at Shamrock Rovers on Saturday, they will return to league action.
The view at Tolka Park was that hosting Monk’s squad was well worth the effort and the money pulled in by the crowd; the equivalent of four weeks’ wages for Shelbourne, according to chairman Joe Casey.
Casey welcomed Cellino into the boardroom and having watched Monk’s training sessions all week, last night gave the Italian a first impression of Monk with opponents across the halfway line.
Monk gave little away with his choice of players – one team for the first 60 minutes, another for the last half-hour – but the use of Toumani Diagouraga, Luke Murphy and youngster Paul McKay in the centre of defence highlighted clearly the need for another centre-back.
United gave up on a deal with Joel Ekstrand on Monday after deciding that the Swede’s prior injuries at Watford – cruciate ligament problems in 2015 – were too severe to gamble on but an alternative is plainly necessary and will surely come. After so much activity in the early days of July – multiple signings and the sale of Lewis Cook to Bournemouth – United have had a quieter week in the market.
Three of those signings, Sacko, Kemar Roofe and Kyle Bartley started at Tolka Park and Leeds made quick work of a side midway through the Irish season.
It took nine minutes for pressure on Shelbourne’s defence to lead to a charge down by Roofe which left Doukara free inside the box. The Frenchman steadied himself before shooting inside Jack Brady’s near post.
Within five minutes, Leeds scored again but with less help from Shelbourne’s backline. Mowatt found space two yards outside the hosts’ box and timed his pass to meet the run of Sacko, who whipped the ball low to Brady’s left, beating him hands down.
Shelbourne struggled to muster the same impetus at the other end and a rare chance in the first half, a shot from James English as Leeds defended a corner, was hacked off the goalline and onto the roof of Ross Turnbull’s net.
The goalkeeper, who was back after many months out with a broken ankle, did not have a save to make until shortly before half-time.
There was, from Monk’s players, an attempt throughout that period to pass, move and avoid lateral play, the sort of football that Monk will want his side to commit to against more competitive sides.
When an error came in front of Turnbull on 37 minutes, the keeper reacted quickly to meet English’s strike but he could do little six minutes into the second half when Monk’s defence fell asleep and Evans tucked away Lorcan Shannon’s cross at the far post.
Monk had moved Murphy to centre-half by then, giving Diagouraga 15 minutes in midfield, and a full raft of changes came on the hour, taking the sting out of the game. His starting line-up left the field to warm applause and his remaining players saw the contest out. The crowd left with few complaints about the product of two-and-a-half weeks of work under Monk.
Shelbourne: Brady (Murray 65), Brown, O’Connor, O’Reilly, Kavanagh (Carragher 90), Boyne (Harper 90), Grimes (Evans 38), Shannon (Coyle 90), English (Duggan 76), Walshe.
Leeds United (for 60 mins): Turnbull, Coyle, Bartley, Diagouraga, Denton, Phillips, Murphy, Mowatt, Sacko, Roofe, Doukara.
Leeds United (last 30 mins): Peacock-Farrell, Purver, McKay, Bamba, Taylor, Vieira, Grimes, Botaka, Stokes, Antonsson, Wood.