In case it slipped under the radar, Leeds sent off their development squad (Kindly called a “Leeds United XI” to save the pride of their hosts in case they lose to kids) to Cork, Ireland to play Cork City FC at Turners Cross.
It was my first venture back to the Cross since Blackburn beat City in a pre-season friendly back in the summer, but I couldn’t exactly pass up the chance to see both my teams (well, technically “team” and “possible future Leeds players”. Reread that “XI” bit above) play each other just a thirty-minute-drive away.
I was going to write up a match report on the game until the match turned out to be the quintessential friendly (subdued tempo, passive play, plenty of substitutions) and – for the neutral at least – wouldn’t have been worth the €13 to get in had City’s Colin Healy not scored a cracker of a goal. To put it another way, the low rumbling of conversation emitted by the 1,553-strong crowd was only broken up by the players’ shouts and commands.
Instead, I’ll write up the overview of the game and the Leeds players’ performances of note, rather than write up a rather clichéd game. And I don’t think any of you readers care about my native Cork City, so I won’t waste your time.
The most experienced players travelling with the Leeds XI included the night’s captain Ross Killock, Sanchez Payne and both Lewis and Nathan Turner who all gained senior experience this season, just not in a Leeds jersey, while Cork City manager Tommy Dunne started off with a squad that was equal parts youth and experience.
City had finished a five-day training course at Fota Island Resort and it showed right from kick-off as they looked sharp and coherent while the Leeds United XI took a few minutes to settle. It was nice to see that even the development squad (full of under-21s down to under-18s, most of whom are nicely referred to as “Scholars”) live up to the Dirty Leeds tag – within the first five minutes they’d given away three free kicks from four blatant fouls.
The young Whites found their rhythm soon enough, though it wasn’t as free-flowing as they’d probably hoped. The entire squad played with the ball on the deck, but every smooth passing movement ended with an over-hit ball, or another white shirt failing to read the pass or just not making up the ground in time. They showed promise and the kind of natural technique that made their academy training obvious. Leeds weren’t above using route one football either, though it had little effect, mainly due to target man Manset’s reluctance to pass whenever he got behind a long ball.
City played a much more mixed game and their comfort was evident as they never tried to outplay the more technically gifted Leeds side by keeping the ball on the deck and rarely looked out of their depth, even after Dunne made 11 changes for the Rebels at half time.
The total change, while not for tactical reasons, had a huge tactical advantage for Cork as United were a little tired and took even longer than before to settle themselves against 11 different players. United allowed themselves to be pressured after the restart and eventually Colin Healy volleyed home a net-buster of a striker after Leeds ‘keeper Grimes punched a cross back out to the City player. The monotony was delayed for a moment as both sides of the crowd cheered. For the record, the crowd was divided (if you could call it that) into City fans and City & Leeds fans.
The game only really sprung to life during the last fifteen minutes, when United realised they’d lose if they didn’t score and actually went for it. Irishman Eoghan Stokes leaned back and sent his shot to the stars, but soon after Lewis Turner squared the ball to Sanchez Payne who tucked the ball into the bottom corner from eight yards. Minutes before the final whistle, Luke Parkin and Payne both came close and if this had been a competitive fixture they’d be rueing their misses.
The Stand-out Players:
Leeds United XI: Eric Grimes (g); Lewis Turner, Jordan Snodin (Lewis Coyle, 66), Nathan Turner, Monty Gimpel (Afalobi Coker, 78); Ross Killock (C) Alex Purver (Jake Skelton, 61), Lewis Walters (Luke Parkin, 52), Alex Mowatt (Kalvin Phillips, 78); Mattieau Mansett (Eoghan Stokes, 52), Patrick Antelmi (Sanchez Payne, 61)
In the Leeds goal, Eric Grimes (a fellow Corkonian, who used to play with Ringmahon Rangers) didn’t have life too hard, but he did have to get in front of the odd shot. About 20 minutes in, City winger Daryl Horgan got on the end of a through ball and cut in from the right before lobbing Grimes from range and making it look easy. The catch was that Horgan was offside, so there was no goal give, and while Horgan couldn’t see the linesman, Grimes spotted the flag and made no effort to get back on his line.
Despite making some solid saves, Grimes was at fault for the opener after 50 minutes. The cross he punched twenty yards out of his box fell to City’s Colin Healy who volleyed past the then-helpless ‘keeper and nearly broke the net.
To the young man’s credit, he showed good professionalism and confidence and didn’t leave the mistake drop his head and remained impassable for the remainder of the game.
Captaining the Leeds XI, Ross Killock, looked very competent in the heart of the backline. He was never beaten in the air, was constantly strong in the tackle and he was confident enough to pass the ball out for a corner with three City players at his heels after Grimes parried out a shot in his direction.
Mathieu Manset wore the number 9 shirt, and the big man was the target for any long balls from defence, but that held mixed results. He was also greedy on the ball, choosing to attempt to barrel to through City’s defence rather than play one-twos with Mowatt (and his Byram-esque haircut) or Patrick Antelmi.
Manset, despite his size and persistence, failed to bully City’s defenders in the slightest. Against a Premier League team he might’ve been a wardrobe falling down a stairs, but he seemingly didn’t realise just how terrible a mix of technique and physicality Irish football is and that Airtricity League teams are more than used to dealing with (Read: smashing into) players of his size.
Special mention has to go to the Aussie Patrick Antelmi who was involved in every Leeds attack in the first half. He was put through no less than four times and was never caught offside once. One might say that was luck, unless one noticed Antelmi’s quick glances at the linesman and City’s defence every single time a ball was en route to him. Most of the time the pass overshot him and he never got a clear shot on goal, but while City had the better of the attacking in the opening twenty minutes, Antelmi was easily the most threatening player on the pitch. He was subbed off and Sanchez Payne took his places as instigator of the Leeds attack.
A single friendly game against League of Ireland opposition was never gonna be an accurate representation of the development squad’s ability and I was never gonna allow it to shape my view more than a little. I can and will say this: Killock looked like a professional and is definitely one to watch, both Turners and Monty Gimpel looked comfortable against Cork City, Payne proved nothing by scoring one against a side who placed 6th in last year’s league but at least he’s scoring, and Antelmi is either well on his way to earning a loan out or he was the only player for United who took the first half seriously.