Leeds 1 - 1 Burnley
It's an old cliche in football, and one I'm sure will be rolled out a few times before the season's done and dusted, but if you'd have offered me a point before this game started, I'd have taken it. Burnley are a tough side, and will no doubt be up and around the top of the table come May 2016, so a point for our young side, still adapting to a new coaching team, could look pretty decent at the end of the campaign, especially if we're up there with the Clarets.
Saturday's game was an entertaining mix of excitement, flair, nerves and mistakes - a solid illustration of traditional early-season form - and, as such, it would be irresponsible to make any kind of prediction for the rest of the year based on it. However, I believe there are a few points we can take from the match as we look ahead to what could be a formative season for the club...
1. The new boys look promising
Well, we've been crying out for one for years now, and the good Sheriff has finally delivered us a proper winger. Oh, Stuart Dallas, how we've pined for you. The recent arrival from Brentford had a storming game on the left wing, tearing Burnley's new right back Tendayi Darikwa to shreds at times, before seeing a scrambled effort somehow turned onto the bar by Tom Heaton. A lack of match fitness saw Dallas replaced by Mirco Antenucci midway through the second half, but I think it's safe to say (and taking care not to build up expectations off the back of one game too much) that Stuart Dallas is basically Robert Snodgrass with a beard, and will drag us to the Premier League by himself.
Elsewhere, Tom Adeyemi continued his impressive start to life in a white shirt, showing once again that he can slot in perfectly with Cook and Mowatt in the midfield. Chris Wood will score goals given time, but looked to be worrying bit too much about opening his account straight away. He snatched at a few chances, blazing one effort over the bar in the second half, when a placed shot would surely have found its way past Heaton. In games where Mowatt is given more attacking freedom, I expect Wood to shine, but the lone striker role will take a bit of getting used to.
2. The old ones look alright too
Typical really. All that talk about Chris Wood and his big price tag, and up pops Mirco Antenucci to prove he's not ready to be replaced just yet. Despite topping the goal scoring charts last season, many had seen Antenucci as a secondary player this season, who would have to be content with a spot on the bench most weeks. Well off the bench Mirco stepped, sent Michael Kightly for a hotdog, and then curled an absolute peach round the desperate, clawing fingers of Tom Heaton. Not bad at all.
Further down the pitch, Gaetano Berardi continued to prove his worth as a replacement for Sam Byram on the right side of defence. Around this time last year, the Swiss international was proving something of a headscratcher for onlooking fans, as he decided to rubber stamp his first appearance for the club with a flying scissors kick on an unsuspecting member of Accrington Stanley's midfield. A year on, and Berardi has become something of a cult hero, focusing more on solid defensive work, rather than attempted murder. A positive turnaround if ever I saw one. Now sitting in his more comfortable position, rather than covering for Charlie Taylor at left back, I expect we'll see a lot of plaudits for Gaetano this season.
Speaking of which...
3. Sam. Byram.
It was always a bit of a question mark hanging over young Sam's head as we watched his development over the past few, difficult seasons... is it worth pushing him forward? Many, myself included, thought it was, and that his natural ability was better suited to running at defenders, rather than trying to stop the opposition from doing the same to him. Others said no, he was adept enough at transitioning from RB to RM during a game, that it made little sense to remove his defensive capabilities from the mix. I think a few more will be on my side of the fence after Saturday's display.
Byram & Dallas look to be the best shot we've had at replacing Gradel & Snodgrass since we lost our marauding wingers to Ken Bates' greed and lack of foresight. Berardi gives Byram sufficient freedom to get forward and use the skills we've seen so often to more frequent effect, whereas previously they had been limited to occasions in which Byram could afford to leave his position unmanned. Burnley will be one of the more organised defences we come up against this season, and they were undone on plenty of occasions by the width that Byram and Dallas created. To me, that represents bags of potential. Now we just need to sort his bloody contract out.
4. Bamba & Bellusci
Right, from the outset: I reckon this is, currently, the best centre-back partnership we have. I'm not getting into any of the personal differences I may or may not have with Bellusci, simply focusing on his game-play alongside Bamba.
It was good. It wasn't perfect, and at times it was pretty infuriating, but on the whole, it was good. He was caught out for the equaliser, and got away with a pretty dodgy looking "ball to hand" in the first half, but his passing was brilliant at times, and he is capable of clearing up mistakes made by his fellow defenders when he's called upon.
Burnley's goal was preventable, but I don't think blame can be pinned to the Italian alone. He was caught flat-footed, while Sam Vokes timed his jump perfectly, but there was no way Burnley should have been allowed to swing in a cross with so much time at their disposal. It seemed as if the whole team had switched off following Antenucci's goal. With a whole season ahead of us though, I think we can afford Bellusci, and the team, time to acclimatise themselves.
5. Depth & Decisions
Here's where it gets slightly pessimistic. Apologies for lulling you into a false sense of security.
There's been a lot of talk about how this has been our "best summer for years" from various corners of the LUFC world. True, Chris Wood, Sol Bamba and Stuart Dallas all seem like very decent signings, and most are including the addition of Uwe Rosler and co. in that statement. Tom Adeyemi was, I believe, brought in as cover, but has proven his ability as a first teamer already, which is a nice surprise. However, in my mind, we still don't have the depth necessary to challenge for promotion, and some of the substitutions on Saturday illustrated that point. Antenucci for Dallas, for example, made sense on the whole. It was another attacking option on for a tired new signing, but Antenucci (unfairly overlooking his contribution to the game, I know) is not a winger, and won't come up with a goal like that every game. I still think we need another option out wide for when (not if) either one of Byram or Dallas is injured. Erwin, Doukara and Antenucci are fine as substitutions in the long run, but I doubt any of them will offer the same effect as a natural winger from the start of a game. Cellino's resistance to traditional loan moves could prove very troublesome in this area, as potential targets will soon begin to dry up. Swansea's Mo Barrow, for example, has just moved on loan to Blackburn, and would have been a perfect fit for us.
In terms of the other changes, why Kalvin Phillips wasn't introduced, I'm not entirely sure. Rosler seemed willing to us the youngster in preseason, but chose to bring on Doukara and Wootton in place of Mowatt and Cook in the second half. Ultimately, the changes didn't affect the game (both coming after Vokes' equaliser) but it seemed odd that Rosler would remove two midfielders and replace them with a striker and a defender, instead of the midfielder on the bench already. The fact that Casper Sloth didn't even make the bench doesn't look overly promising for his future at the club.
That being said, this is all very trivial at the moment. We're one game into a 46 game season, and I'm sure many more lessons will be learned by the time we visit Deepdale on the last day. For now, I'm happy with a point, and I'm looking forward to see how we deal with a busy few weeks ahead of us. Doncaster on Thursday, Reading on Sunday, Bristol on Wednesday, then Sheffield a week on Saturday. It's going to be a tough run. Bring it on.
For more, read Harte & Soul