An impressive crowd of almost 20000 made the trip to Elland Road on Tuesday evening to witness the second string sides of Leeds United and Bolton battle it out for a spot in the second round of the Carabao Cup.
Wanderers themselves made ten changes from Saturday’s draw with Bristol City, with Josh Vela being the sole survivor and honoured with the role of captain for the evening. Many of the summer signings were given the chance to impress, including the recent loan signings of Remi Mathews and Jonathan Grounds being thrown in at the deep end at goalkeeper and left back respectively.
The inclusion of Donaldson and Hall suggested a surprisingly adventurous 4 4 2 formation for an away day. However it quickly became clear Connor Hall would plough a lone furrow up front, supported by Wilschut, Oztumer and Donaldson in Parky’s favoured 4 2 3 1 formation. The inclusion of young Hall over ALF was initially surprising, but as the evening wore on the reasons behind this would become clear.
Even a much changed Leeds team were clearly high on confidence from their buoyant start to the season under Marcelo Bielsa, and they took less than a minute to carve out the first chance. Tyler Roberts burst past a static Wanderers back four and looked to have a clear run on goal, only for Josh Vela to appear out of almost nowhere to dispossess the Leeds midfielder, when he appeared set to pull the trigger.
Leeds continued to dominate, with Samuel Saiz central to the majority of the best football played by the hosts. Wanderers rarely threated, with the best chance falling to Gary O’Neil on the edge of the Leeds penalty area, only for his first time volley to fly well wide of Jamal Blackman’s goal.
Leeds’s dominance paid off in the 27th minute when they deservedly took the lead. Saiz’s mazy run resulted in the ball being deflected into the path of Bamford, where he showed Leeds fans just why they paid £10 million for him. Bamford skilfully flicked the ball between Marc Wilson’s legs, before arrowing a crisp left footed strike well beyond Mathews into the corner of the net.
Leeds were two up before the half time whistle. Wanderers committed men forward for a corner kick and a calm pass out from the back found Lewis Baker with the freedom of Elland Road to break. His underhit pass to Saiz seemed to have allowed Wanderers the chance to get enough bodies back to smother the chance, but the mercurial Spaniard’s quick feet and composure gained him half a yard to fire a low shot beyond an again helpless Mathews. It was little more than Leeds deserved and one wondered if Wanderers were heading for a potentially morale sapping heavy defeat.
To the Wanderers players (and Parky’s) great credit, they came out for the second half with much more purpose, taking advantage of a complacent start to the second half from Leeds United to halve the deficit. Wildschut had generally been well marshalled by young right back Jamie Shackleton, but he finally broke free early in the second half and his fine driving run resulted in the ball falling kindly for Erhan Oztumer, who stroked a fine left footed finish into the bottom corner to open his account for Wanderers.
The Wanderers fans found their voice and the United back line just started to creak. Wildschut was sent clear with only Blackman to beat, but his tame shot was easily saved by the giant ex Sheffield United shot stopper. Soon after the ball fell very kindly for Jonathan Grounds deep in the Leeds penalty area, only for him to blaze his chance well over the bar.
Wanderers threw on Josh Magennis and Craig Noone to no avail, as the game petered out with a Leeds third looking more likely than a Bolton equaliser. Wanderers deserve great credit for hanging on in the game against a very impressive Leeds side, when they could have been easily overwhelmed and collapsed to a three or four goal losing margin.
Parky will certainly draw positives from this fixture despite defeat. Erhan Oztumer in the number ten role was Bolton’s brightest spark, showing willingness to collect the ball and skill on it, along with a great willingness to graft off the ball which would have been greatly appreciated from Parkinson. Wildschut was positive, and despite many of his dribbles not paying off, he kept trying to make things happen. Despite the two goals conceded, the greater ability of Wilson and Hobbs as ball players suggests they can at least challenge Wheevers for their central defensive spots, albeit I would be surprised to see either of them lining up as early as on Saturday against Reading in the Championship.
Most concerning for Parky has to be that neither Gary O’Neil nor Josh Vela look effective alternatives to Jason Lowe to provide protection in front of the back four. Yes Saiz is a very good player at this level, but one feels Lowe would have at least got closer to him than either of the afore mentioned players did.
Additionally, Connor Hall was very easily marshalled by two experienced defenders in Ayling and Janssen. Much has been said on social media that Hall should be given a chance to lead the Wanderers front line and Tuesday night showed just why he hasn’t been thrown in as of yet. It is no criticism of the lad, but the gap in standard from under 23’s to Championship football is a chasm few can overcome in one step. He desperately needs a loan away to develop, I would hate to see him become another Jamie Thomas or Alex Samizadeh where he is released in a year or two’s time with a feeling of what might have been.
Results like this won’t define our season, but Wanderers should take great heart from the way they hung in against a side that had brushed promotion hopefuls Stoke City and Derby County aside with ease. Such a spirited performance on Saturday at the Madjeski could yet allow our unbeaten league run to continue into an unprecedented fourth match.