LEEDS UNITED’S FA Cup loss against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light in a re-run of the 1973 final may have resulted in a fifth defeat in six matches for the Whites, but it was not without encouragement for the 5,200 visiting fans on Wearside.
After trailing to Patrick van Aanholt’s 33rd-minute goal at the break, Leeds produced a much-improved performance on the restart, which was almost crowned with a leveller, with their most dangerous moment arriving in stoppage-time when stand-in captain Liam Cooper saw his header hit the post.
Here’s some five observations from the north east - from a day which saw Casper Sloth and Luke Murphy come in from the cold and make rare starts and Brian Montenegro, Dario del Fabro and Charlie Taylor also line up for Leeds.
1: The second-half performance is something to build on.
Leeds belatedly realised they were in a cup tie at the break and rolled the dice in the second half and had a go after a tentative waste of a first half. Leeds pressed further up the pitch and at times, it rattled Sunderland and they could not have had too many complaints if the visitors had nicked an equaliser. The urgency and tempo sadly lacking in the first half was there and Leeds, whisper it gently, even showed a touch of threat out wide at times. It was not a game to define Leeds’ players’ lives, but show some stomach for the more important battles ahead - starting with Bolton Wanderers on Saturday.
2: A powerhouse Rudy Austin can offer Leeds something - if he is still going to be around.
The Jamaican has endured a troubled year and his future is up in the air amid interest from Brighton and Millwall. But he produced a belligerent, combative display in the second-half, showing bustling intent and energy - giving Leeds a physical edge in midfield and showing glimpses of his old self.
3: Brian Montenegro is ready for a more regular role.
Bearing in mind, he played in an attacking position on the left and not through the middle, the Paraguayan striker - on his full debut after two brief substitute appearances - put himself about and showed semblances of threat and played his part in a positive second-half. Not too many Championship sides know too much about him and his attitude and energy levels seem good - perhaps should have been brought on in the latter stages at Derby with the game and Leeds going nowhere at least his presence have taken something from a poor evening and given him experience.
4: Luke Murphy and Casper Sloth haven’t sulked.
Granted, the pair’s performances at the Stadium of Light didn’t crack any pots. But both put in a shift in the second half and improved as the game went on with both providing crosses which almost led to second-half goals. Neil Redfearn was presumably referring to the attitude of both when he labelled the attitude of those players who have out of side in recent weeks and months as exemplary.
On being questioned whether Murphy,starting his first game since the end of August, could yet play a part, Redfearn admitted that the door was open, handing Murphy the compliment of saying him and Austin ‘bossed’ proceedings in the second half. It remains to be seen what happens through January, but if Murphy is still around, he can maybe still play a role - stranger things have happened. At the very least, he would bring competition and keep people on their toes.
5: Mirco Antenucci is a class act.
If Leeds are to get out of trouble between now and May, you sense Antenucci will have something to say about it. Shows touches of class at Sunderland and would hand something to the best Championship sides. A difficult time for Leeds, but Antenucci can be counted upon in the coming weeks ahead - just needs the supporting cast around him to pitch in and provide him with the necessary ammunition.
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