9th August 2023, Carabao Cup Rd 1.
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The statistics for the game with Shrewsbury Town last night bore a remarkable similarity with those from the Cardiff game, despite the fact that the Shrews were a division lower than the Bluebirds. Once again, Leeds looked mostly pretty good in possession and had lots of it, but those niggling faults that we’ve come to almost accept are still there and might prove costly in games to come.
Leeds dominated the possession again, much as we did against Cardiff on Sunday and we amassed 21 shots, also similar to our 25 against the Bluebirds. Unfortunately, too many good opportunities were wasted with wayward shooting that usually saw the crowd ducking out of the way rather than causing the Shrews’ keeper much trouble.
Then that other annoying niggle, no, more than a niggle, that weakness, allowing Shrewsbury to take the lead with their first attack of the game, set us back on our heels just as happened on Sunday. This Leeds team was different of course as Farke tried to balance putting out a side capable of winning the tie, with an eye on keeping key players fit for the arguably more important league campaign. Hence we saw Karl Darlow in goal, Gyabi in midfield and Joffy Gelhardt up front, and Jamie Shackleton in midfield, none of whom you would imagine will start at Birmingham. The good news is that they all slotted in pretty seamlessly. The bad news is that, apart from Darlow, who had little opportunity to show us what he can do, the rest didn’t exactly shout out that they deserved a start in a Championship game. I’m not including Ian Poveda in that because he again looked pretty sharp to me and, with Summerville now injured, I’d guess Farke will turn to him to start; he deserves it too.
The starting XI also struggled to convert all that possession into solid chances in front of goal in the first half and hence why the Shrewsbury goal sent shivers down the spine of most watching. It was far too easy for the Shrews to get around the side of our defence with Gyabi and Hjelde both failing to prevent the shot. The fact it then took a deflection that beat Darlow can’t really be accounted for and that was sheer bad luck, but we have to stop the shots and crosses coming in from those sorts of angles.
Leeds huffed and puffed for the rest of the half but an early curling strike from Archie Gray was the best attempt we could muster.
At the break, Leeds changed things around and in particular Ethan Ampadu moved from the centre-back slot where really he was wasted, he’s far more influential playing in front of the back four and that’s where he went with Struijk coming on to take up the CB role and Sam Byram replacing Leo Hjelde at left-back. The introduction of Byram, just as it did on Sunday, immediately gave more presence on the left flank while Ampadu could strike up his midfield partnership with Archie Gray again. Archie was once again a key part of most of our attacking moves. It was then attack v defence for the balance of the game and, again just like Sunday, eventually the constant pressure told.
The equaliser showed how Ian Poveda can influence a game as his fierce shot could only be knocked out toward Joffy Gelhardt. The ball hit Joffy more than Joffy hit the ball but the contact off his thigh was enough to send the ball into the now unguarded net with the keeper still recovering from the first shot. Six minutes later and the Shrews crumbled again, this time from a right-wing corner from the right boot of Dan James. It bobbled off someone in the middle and fell at the back post where Pascal Struijk showed a striker’s alertness to guide the ball home on the volley.
Leeds continued to press and Ian Poveda almost scored with a delicious curling left-footer that had the keeper beaten but also just beat the left post. Then Luis Sinisterra, looking much more lively than we’ve seen so far this season, did all the hard work to get a clear sight of goal on the left, only to send his curling right foot shot high over the bar from the corner of the six-yard area. We’ve said it for years; “Don’t our players practice shooting?”
End of the day, it was job done and hopefully without adding to our ridiculously long injury list. I think we’ll see Sam Byram start on Saturday at Birmingham and hopefully, then we can use that left flank from the start rather than wait for halftime. I guess it will be Cresswell and Struijk in the middle which should be ok. There is a question mark over the way Luke Ayling is defending these days, he got caught out a couple of times last night in no man’s land, so he may be a weak link but going forward, even before we strengthen (as surely we must), we will pose questions to most teams. Stay error-free at the back and we’ll always be in with a chance of points.
Leeds United 2 (Gelhardt 52’, Struijk 58’)
Shrewsbury Town 1 (Perry 28')
Leeds: Darlow (GK), Ayling (C), Ampadu, Cresswell, Shackleton, Gyabi (Byram 45’), James (Drameh 92’), Gray, Poveda (Sinisterra 83’), Gelhardt (Bate 95’), Hjelde (Struijk 45’). Subs not used: Meslier (GK), Klaesson (GK), Perkins, Moore.
Shrewsbury: Marosi (GK), Benning, Anderson, Feeney (Sobowale 72’), Winchester (Watts 72’), Bowman (C) (Udoh 60’), Perry, Hernes (Shipley 55’), Bayliss (Sraha 72’), Flanagan, Kenneh. Subs not used: Burgoyne (GK), Dunkley.
Venue: Elland Road
Attendance: 35,129 (1,225 away)
Referee: Seb Stockbridge
Booked: Benning, Winchester (Shrewsbury)