Any hopes of an instant reinforcement of Wolves’ promotion prospects were extinguished as Neil Warnock’s Leeds earned a comfortable victory under the blazing afternoon sunshine at Elland Road.
Midfielder Tongo Doumbia was given his debut by boss Stale Solbakken, whilst fellow new recruits Bjorn Sigurdarson and Slawomir Peszko were among the substitutes. The new manager opted to go with 2 out and out widemen, as opposed to the narrow midfield formation that had been the mainstay of the pre-season schedule. The in-demand Matt Jarvis and youngster Anthony Forde operated from the flanks.
Both sides took a little while to get going during the initial stages of the game. Roger Johnson wasted a decent opportunity for Wolves after heading a Jarvis corner onto the hand of team-mate Sylvan Ebanks-Blake from close range. Leeds, however, soon began to take control of the contest and, after a goalmouth scramble, in which Carl Ikeme saved well from Luciano Becchio and Ross McCormack poked wide, the home side opened the scoring on 17 minutes. A long ball from debutant keeper Paddy Kenny found McCormack completely unmarked down the left wing; the striker allowed the time and space to send a beauty of a cross into the box, where Argentine Becchio ghosted in to head home from close quarters. It was a well worked goal and a fine ball from Kenny, but it was comical defending from the visitors. Some things do never seem to change, do they?!
Wolves initially responded well, but only Jarvis, who was starting to get the better of 18 year old right-back Samuel Bryam, looked threatening as the first half petered out.
Wolves introduced Peszko for the second half in place of Forde, and the Polish winger was instantly involved in the action, firing over from a good position inside the penalty box following a Jarvis corner. Leeds fought back, and only the quick thinking of keeper Ikeme prevented Luke Varney a clean route to goal, the Wolves backline caught square following a simple through ball down the middle. Becchio then had a long range strike well smothered by Ikeme, but Wolves were beginning to enjoy more and more of the possession. Peszko was looking lively with his directness down the right wing, yet he should have created a clear goalscoring opportunity just before the hour mark. After sneaking behind left back Aidan White following a fine through ball from skipper Karl Henry, Peszko played a hurried, first time ball to striker Kevin Doyle, despite finding himself in acres of space. The cross was intercepted by Jason Pearce and the danger was averted.
Jarvis had faded after a decent first half showing, yet he did well to beat Bryam and send a cross into the box on 67, which was headed into the side-netting at the far post by Peszko. Despite holding the majority of the ball, Wolves were not creating clear opportunities, and Leeds were looking reasonably comfortable. With 20 minutes remaining, Sigurdarson was introduced for the frustrated Ebanks-Blake. Within minutes, the Norwegian did well to work his way into the Leeds box, but his cutback was fired wide by Jarvis.
Leeds were defending their lead well, with Pearce and, in particular, midfielder Rodolph Austin impressing. El-Hadji Diouf, a 44th minute sub, was stretching the Wolves defence, but any balls into the box were being well held by Ikeme.
Jarvis came close again as the game edged towards stoppage time, and right back Ronald Zubar saw a header from a Stephen Ward corner bounce off the bar, though only after the referee had blew his whistle for a minor infringement.
Sigurdarson, who had looked good in patches, fired wildly over deep into injury time after good work by Peszko as Leeds comfortably eased home during the 5 added on minutes to deservedly earn the three points.
Different season, same old story. Laboured, indeterminate football with very little creative ideas and a defensive ineptitude that, unfortunately, we have all now become accustomed to. Unless a centre-back, at the very least, is signed before the end of the transfer window, we are going to struggle, especially against the big hitters of this division. This back four is nowhere near good enough, not for a team who has aspirations of promotion.
At right-back, Kevin Foley (if fit) surely has to start on Tuesday against Barnsley. Zubar can be dangerous going forward, but he lacks any real defensive nous. He’s been first choice during the pre-season games, because his cavalier runs from right-back supplement well the narrow midfield system that Stale had used before today’s game. But Foley is the better all round defender(by a long shot) and he needs to be reinstated, whatever system we play.
I’m happy that Stale went with 2 out and out widemen, but I feel this way of playing is reliant on Jarvis staying. Without him and Adam Hammill, who seems to be on his way out, we don’t have many options out wide. Losing Jarvis would be a blow 10 times worse than potentially losing Steven Fletcher. We have the options up front to cope without Fletch, but Jarvo is the best player in this division. Without him, we lose our major source of creativity.
I think I’d still stick with Kevin Doyle, even though Sigurdarson looked decent when he was introduced. Doyler is cutting an isolated figure at the moment, and is obviously devoid of confidence, but there is a top quality player in there somewhere. He needs to score that first goal, and the sooner the better – form is temporary and all that.
Despite the result, the performance wasn’t without snippets of positivity. Ikeme looked very solid in goal. He has waited a long time for the chance to establish himself in the first team, and I’m happy that he has been favoured over the wantaway Dorus de Vries. He came out to take numerous crosses and has a command of the penalty area that is not too dissimilar to Matt Murray’s. I rate him highly and back him to do a good job between the sticks for us this season. Peszko came on at half time and looked very lively. He has a fair amount of pace and looked direct right from the off. After a few games to adjust and an improvement on decision making, we potentially have a really good player on our hands here. The likes of Henry and new boy Doumbia were tidy in midfield, and Sigurdarson looked OK coming from the bench.
It is glaringly obvious that the players are still stuck in a rut, which is understandable when you go 15 games without a win, with just 1 victory from 27. We have basically forgotten what it is like to win a game of football, and these are mental problems that Stale simply cannot rectify after just one game. It’s going to take some time for his players to gel and play in the way he wants, but it is important that we get those three points on the board as soon as possible. The beauty of the Championship is that you will get many Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday weeks during the season, starting with Barnsley up next at Molineux. Hopefully the boys can get off the mark at home straight away.
My team for Barnsley – Ikeme; Foley, Batth (why was he not even on the bench today?!), Johnson, Ward; Peszko, Henry, Doumbia, Jarvis; SEB, Doyle.