After the shocker against Blackburn, Leeds respond with a perfect week going into the international break.
About a month ago, I decided to start a new Twitter campaign in order to highlight an issue that had begun to bother me as a Leeds United fan. Over the past few years there have been a few players at Elland Road that have suffered from the wrath and vitriol that can only be handed out by the loudest of football fans, and have often given back as much as they have received. One player, however, who hasn't risen to answer the thousands of critical voices lamenting his every inclusion in the match day squad, is Scott Wootton.
#BeNiceToScottWootton was my attempt at stemming some of the harsher comments I had seen directed towards a lad who, admittedly, isn't the best footballer to pull on the white shirt and step out onto the hallowed turf, but always seems to do his best when handed the opportunity. Unfortunately, my campaign didn't exactly take off.
And yet, here I stand today, completely vindicated in my unfounded protection of United's number four. For without Scott Wootton, is there any doubt that Leeds would not have walked out of Huddersfield with all three points on Saturday?
True, Mirco Antenucci was exemplary, scoring one and setting up another in a fantastic display of both talent and determination, as was Marco Silvestri at the other end of the field, pulling off two fantastic saves in order to keep his second clean sheet of the week. Yes, Alex Mowatt played his part too, sending a ball into the 4th dimension for the second time this week, but could any of these players have been *as* effective, if not for the efforts of that rock at the right-side of the defence?
Where else, pray-tell, would we have received so much added-time from at the end of the first-half, if not for Wootton's attempted homicide which saw Liam Cooper removed from the field with a probable concussion?
Wootton clearly understood that sacrifices must be made in order for victory to be achieved, and with Cooper's previously-exposed, superhuman healing powers (the ones which allowed him to play against Fulham despite seemingly rupturing his knee just a few days before), the captain was the obvious choice to take the bullet.
Shortly after using his Jedi mind-powers on referee Graham Scott in order to avoid a blatant second booking for his challenge on Emyr Huws, Wootton picked up the ball in his own half, before delivering a pass to the advancing Stuart Dallas so sweet, Willy Wonka could have patented it, wrapped it up and stuck a golden ticket next to it. Dallas found Wood, who found Dallas again, who whipped in a ball right to the feet of Antenucci. 1-0 Leeds, and Wootton's work was done.
Much to the dismay of Don Goodman, Leeds were 2-0 up within a few minutes, rocking a comfortable Huddersfield side right before half-time. Antenucci raced away onto a sublime through-ball from Luke Murphy, before rounding the keeper and delivering the ball back across the area. Lewis Cook miscued his finish, but Chris Wood was on hand to knock the ball into the empty net.
Alex Mowatt completed the rout early in the second-half, somehow managing to out-do his midweek effort against Cardiff by taking down a header from Wootton near the byline, advancing a few paces, and crushing the ball into the top-corner from all of 30 yards. The kind of goal you could watch a million times and never get bored.
In fairness to Huddersfield, 3-0 was a scoreline that flattered Leeds. In the same way that Leeds had surrendered possession for points against Cardiff, they once again controlled a minimal part of the game at the John Smith's stadium. 37% was the final figure for Evans' side, but three goals from four shots on target is the most important stat to take away from the game itself.
Under Uwe Rosler, Leeds had spent large parts of their games passing the ball around the defence or midfield, allowing teams to find a shape and organise themselves defensively. Evans has seemingly reversed the approach, putting the impetus on the opposition to find the weaknesses in the Leeds back line, ironically an approach that Rosler claimed he wanted to instil at Leeds. Any weaknesses that were uncovered by Huddersfield on Saturday, however, were plugged up by the last line of United's defence.
Marco Silvestri has been the subject of my criticism many times this season, criticism I still stand by. His performances, on the whole, have not been anywhere near good enough for this level of football, and his mistakes over the past few months have cost us valuable points. On Saturday, however, Silvestri looked back to his best, reminiscent of the kind of displays we saw last season, with little in the way of his occasional "dodgyness".
Two world-class saves denied Huddersfield a way back into the game in the second half, and there were very few moments where the United keeper looked anything other than composed. His ability in dealing with crosses and set pieces still worry me, but more performances like that will go far towards easing my mind.
Annoyingly, after building up some much needed momentum over the last week, Leeds now go into the dreaded international break. Steve Evans has smartly organised a friendly against Wycombe Wanderers next week in order to keep the competitive level of the squad up whilst players like Cook, Botaka and Dallas are away with their national teams.
The 21st will see Neil Redfearn return to Elland Road with his struggling Rotherham side, a game that Leeds and Evans need to be looking at as an easy three points. The match is a melting-pot of scores to settle, which will no doubt affect the action on the pitch, but on paper it should be a game set up for Leeds to win.