Fresh starts have occurred so often at Leeds United they are in danger of losing their lustre but the latest contains hope under Thomas Christiansen, their eighth manager in three years, and the new owner, Andrea Radrizzani.
It was substantiated on the opening day with a clinical, punishing and highly entertaining win over Bolton Wanderers.
Kalvin Phillips struck an unexpected double and Chris Wood scored as a matter of routine to defeat Phil Parkinson’s team, who overcame a poor first-half display, and the financial gap that exists between them and many Championship rivals, to unnerve their guests. “It was everything I expected from the game but the heart rate went up a lot,” said Christiansen of his managerial bow in English football. “To start the first game away with a win has big importance. We have to continue with this. It is just the start.”
It came at a potential cost, too, with the defenders Gaetano Berardi and Matthew Pennington suffering potentially serious injuries. The Bolton midfielder Josh Vela was meanwhile taken to hospital with a leg injury, a problem Parkinson can ill-afford as he wrestles with financial restrictions imposed by the Football League. “We will speak to the league about getting additional players in if we have to,” said Parkinson, who is expected to sign a new contract with the club this week.
Bolton and Leeds may share a history of lost Premier League status and near-financial ruin but they have contrasting aims for this campaign. For the hosts, back after a season in League One, consolidation in the second tier represents the next step as Parkinson rebuilds with free transfers and loanees. Leeds harbour loftier ambitions after Radrizzani ended the chaotic ownership of his Italian compatriot Massimo Cellino at Elland Road, which is itself back in the hands of the club and will house 18,000 season-ticket holders. The respective pre-season expectations looked realistic with only 45 minutes of the season gone.
Quick-thinking and slow reactions enabled Leeds to take the lead from their first corner. Pablo Hernández delivered a training ground routine low into the penalty area, where Phillips read the Spaniard’s intentions quicker than anyone in white. The midfielder connected first time and a slight deflection off Jem Karacan sent the ball beyond the Bolton goalkeeper Mark Howard into the far corner.
Bolton started sluggishly in possession as well as concentration but improved gradually and had gained a measure of control when Leeds scored a clinical second. It was another demonstration of Wood’s importance and why Leeds are determined to resist any approaches for the striker this summer.
Pennington, the central defender on loan from Everton, instigated the move by releasing Kemar Roofe down the right. The winger floated an inviting cross to the back post where Ezgjan Alioski headed back across goal for Wood, who scored 30 goals last season, to open his account with an emphatic header.
Bolton’s best hope of a recovery centred on an aerial bombardment of Felix Wiedwald, the former Germany Under-20s goalkeeper who was one of three debutants in the visitors’ starting lineup. It paid dividends when the centre-forward Gary Madine climbed highest at the back post to head home a deep corner from Vela, but Leeds quickly responded restored their two-goal superiority.
Hernández was again involved, dissecting Bolton’s central defence with a perfectly weighted pass into Wood who, despite an initial stumble, squared for Phillips to convert into an empty net with Howard taken out of the equation. Bolton appealed for offside against the New Zealand international but the referee, Simon Hooper, called it correctly with Stephen Darby playing Wood onside.
Leeds’ comfort almost extended to a fourth goal before half-time when Alioski met Roofe’s low cross but fired over from close range. It was almost a telling miss as the visitors’ rhythm was disrupted by injury and Bolton sensed a fightback. Left-back Berardi was the first enforced departure when he suffered a dislocated shoulder that had to be popped back in place in the dressing room. Pennington followed in the second half with an ankle injury.
Conor Shaughnessy, Pennington’s replacement, had only been on the pitch two minutes when he gifted Bolton a penalty by pulling Madine’s shirt over his head when defending a Vela corner. Adam Le Fondre sent an emphatic spot-kick straight down the middle of Wiedwald’s goal but Leeds were able to avoid further damage.
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