You felt, going into this game, that something simply had to give. Two teams stuck on 4 points after 4 games, neither had won, neither had lost, and both were desperate to prove their potential going into the international break. Both sides made changes from their previous games, as Paul Clement and Uwe Rosler both attempted to justify their respective summer appointments after a tough opening to the season. Realistically, the game was Derby's to win - a home fixture against a side that hadn't won at their ground in 15 years - but come the final whistle, it was the visitors left smiling as a late Chris Wood goal gave Leeds their first win of the season. And what a goal it was.
After taking his time under little pressure, turning back towards the Derby goal, Lewis Cook pushed the ball forward to Wood on the edge of the area. Wood's first touch spun him away from his man, out to his left. His second touch dispatched the ball from his right foot towards the net with the all the delicacy of a wrecking ball. Scott Carson simply watched as the shot hurtled past him, crashing off the inside of the post before rolling along the back of the net. A cracking goal that had pundits and fans alike lost for words, and one that may prove hugely important to a striker desperate to prove his worth. Around 10 minutes earlier, Wood had been left completely bemused (along with anyone watching the game) after managing to head a free-effort over the bar from about 6 yards. Too many players, let alone strikers, have suffered over the years at Elland Road due to a lack of mental strength, but any doubts about Wood's mindset following that glaring miss were well and truly put to bed with his third goal in as many games that came soon after.
It hadn't been a faultless performance from either side before Wood sealed the win for Leeds, but the away side had dominated the first half, disrupting Derby's gameplan with ruthless intent, reminiscent of the performance at Elland Road last season that yielded a 2-0 win. The back four, looking more and more defined as a group each week, were hugely impressive once again, protected by a midfield three that seemed far more mature than their actual ages would suggest. Tom Adeyemi, continuing his fine start to life in a Leeds shirt, punctuated his impressive first half performance by putting Leeds into the lead just before half time. Stuart Dallas decided not to waste another set piece by taking a short corner, receiving the return pass, and lifting a perfectly weighted cross onto the head of Adeyemi, who directed an unstoppable header into the bottom corner after ghosting into the box undetected. It was a fantastically worked goal, and adds another notch to the belt of Adeyemi, who looks more and more comfortable with each passing game. You can really see why the Cardiff fans were so annoyed at the decision to loan him out over the summer, and it would be hard to imagine Leeds opting against moving for him on a permanent deal in the future.
Speaking of impressive displays, I'm beginning to run out of superlatives for Sol Bamba at this point, which is worrying so early in the season. It's getting to the point at which I could potentially do with a few poor performances from him to give me a break and keep my articles fresh.... but I'm sure I'll get over it if he continues this magnificent run of form. The skipper could do little about Derby's equaliser, however, as the home side came storming out of the blocks in the second half, with Leeds looking as if they had forgotten why they turned up to the stadium in the first place. Chris Martin, just about as hateable as that other Chris Martin, received the ball on the edge of the area, dipping his right shoulder, sending Liam Cooper the wrong way far too easily, before smashing his shot into the bottom corner past Marco Silvestri. Jeff Hendrick then almost put Derby in front a few minutes later, Bamba uncharacteristically rushing out of position but missing the ball that came into Derby's number 8 from Tom Ince. Hendrick luckily fired wide, but it was another huge warning to a Leeds side that suddenly looked bereft of any composure.
The introduction of Luke Murphy, as it did against Sheffield Wednesday, brought that composure back to the Leeds midfield, but while Murphy calmed the game down, it was dragged back to life, kicking and screaming, by Lewis Cook. For the most part, Uwe Rosler has stuck with his team selection approach that rewards form over favouritism, but the German decided that Cook was too important to the team to leave him on the sidelines after returning from a three-game suspension. And thank god he did. Cook was nothing short of immense, dominating the midfield throughout the game, popping up in any position he seemed to fancy at the time. It wouldn't be unfair to say that, in his absence, Leeds have sorely missed the ingenuity and drive that the 18 year old brings to the midfield. Murphy is fantastic at controlling the pace of a game, but it takes the pure, raw talent of Cook to make Rosler's "heavy metal" dream come true, picking up the ball from the defence and driving the entire team forward. Once Murphy is back to full fitness (hopefully after the international break) Rosler will surely want to see if he and Cook can get back to the kind of form they were in under Neil Redfearn's management last season.
Aside from 20 minutes in the second half, Leeds were hugely impressive on Saturday, taking the game to a team that are fully capable of dominating any match in this league. Berardi and Taylor negated any influence that Russell or Ince were expected to have in another fantastic display from the full-backs, while Cook, Adeyemi and Murphy (when brought on) controlled the middle of the park. Up top, Wood had to be patient and wait for just a few opportunities against a strong defensive partnership in Keogh and Shackell, but took his (second) chance well when it arose. In all honesty, given the strength of Derby's squad on paper, a draw would have looked like a good result before Saturday's game. Coming away with 3 points not only breaks the winless streak at Pride Park, but puts Leeds in a much stronger position going into the international break and adds a helpful portion of justification to Uwe Rosler's system. Only 3 points now seperate the two sides, but while Derby's fans will now be discussing 5 games without a win, Leeds can still boast an unbeaten record that has left them sitting just outside the playoffs, only 3 points away from the automatic spots. It's starting to look like the pieces are coming together quite nicely.
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