Elland Road was moody. And when Elland Road is moody, it is dangerous. Wolves found that out to their cost.
Whether the eventual winner was a Rayan Ait-Nouri own goal or, rather more romantically, Brenden Aaronson’s mattered not for Jesse Marsch.
This represented an encouraging proper first day of the new era at Leeds United. Marsch’s era, one that takes bits from Marcelo Bielsa’s but with his own twist.
Leeds still run a lot. They still press with intensity and are at their best when games are stretched and cluttered. But they have ditched certain principles, like the man-for-man element of their defending, and the next few months will offer intrigue as to how this team changes.
One constant, though. When the crowd is up, Leeds are incredibly difficult to contain and Wolves just could not cope for a few minutes towards the end of an afternoon they will fancy should have presented a different result. Bruno Lage certainly thought so, upset with Marsch as the pair embraced at the end. ‘We dominated the game,’ Lage said, and it was hard to argue.
Yet Wolves did not create enough true chances when on top. They conceded sloppy goals and Leeds, a new-look Leeds without Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha, thought they would have a bit of that.
Wolves had led within six minutes. Having been warned by a harmless early Daniel Podence half-volley, fashioned by a loose Tyler Adams header, Leeds were not alert enough through a transition and susceptible on a counter attack.
Deep inside his own half, Ruben Neves coolly swept from right to left and off scampered Pedro Neto. Rasmus Kristensen’s positioning was sound but he was caught unawares by Neto’s shoulder charge, barged out of the way and then Wolves were in business.
Neto crossed deep to a waiting Hwang Hee-Chan, who intelligently knocked down towards the penalty shot rather than heading goalwards. Podence pounced, half-volleying into the ground and over a despairing Illan Meslier.
Swift and robust, the signs looked good for Lage. A different Wolves on their first outing as a back four after a summer shift in tactical philosophy. ‘I was right to give them the challenge to change the system,’ Lage said. ‘We were right to choose this. Today I’m a happy man because I can see they can play both systems.’
The difference extended to their defending, though, with an unusual brittleness without Conor Coady, on his way out of the club he captains.
The equaliser arrived 18 minutes later and had been threatened for the majority of that time. Ait-Nouri was guilty of attempting to shimmy away from danger, losing control of possession inside the area. Leeds capitalised. It pinballed and eventually broke to Rodrigo, gliding beyond Neves and pumping underneath Jose Sa, beaten at his near post.
Sa had prompted fury inside this old ground shortly before when flying into Kristensen from a free kick, getting nowhere near the ball, only for referee Robert Jones to wave away appeals. Marsch’s agitation at the officiating simmered all afternoon. ‘I felt live like Rasmus was taken out,’ Marsch said. ‘They give the goalies the benefit of the doubt. If you touch the goalie it’s always a foul.’
If Meslier might have done better for the opener – and that is debatable – then he made up for it, saving smartly from Hwang and then superbly tipping over Leander Dendoncker’s header from a second-half corner.
Leeds tired, Bamford – on his first appearance since defeat at Molineux on March 18 – increasingly isolated. Wolves looked more progressive, Neves a cut above and Neto making poor Kristensen wish for a second chance of a debut. Kristensen, to his credit, perfected one crucial last-ditch tackle when the visitors appeared ready to regain their advantage.
‘We weathered the storm were fairly stable,’ Marsch said. ‘They didn’t create huge chances. But we were running too much. We were resilient to validate the good work.’
Then came this second wave, the sort of which seen on so many occasions here over the last few years and helped by an injection of energy from the bench. Bamford peeled, Aaronson waited, Elland Road erupted on 74 minutes. Simple in its execution yet laced with beauty.
Adams to substitute Mateusz Klich, both immediately looking forward on collection of the ball. Klich saw Bamford on the shoulder, a nicely weighted pass and Aaronson did not look like missing the subsequent square. ‘USA, USA,’ went up for their new £24million American from Red Bull Salzburg – only for Ait-Nouri to have been adjudged to have got the last touch.
‘I touched it, I was in there, and it came off my shins somewhere in there – I am taking credit for it,’ Aaronson said. ‘We’ve been working on in training the back post run, you always have to be there, and if I am not there then the guy could clear it or something.’